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UCT is a 'gem in South Africa's crown of research'

UCT is a 'gem in South Africa's crown of research' | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

Members of Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology were given a snapshot of UCT's research output on a recent visit to the university, where various researchers outlined the work in their respective disciplines.

 

Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price and a team of UCT researchers set about convincing members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology of the invaluable way the university can contribute to the work they do as policymakers.

 

"One of the purposes of this visit is to remind you that you have on your doorstep an incredible resource, which we feel is underutilised by policymakers," Price said, expressing the hope that the visit would be the starting point of committee members feeling more comfortable with making demands on the university to support their work.

 

In his presentation he referred to the university as a "gem in South Africa's crown of research". He compared the university's function on the world stage being similar to that of the 2010 World Cup. "It persuades the world that the whole country is at a level of development and sophistication where the economy can cope with the most advanced innovations ... UCT is the flagship and representative of science in South Africa."

 

Price pointed out that much of the work that is done by UCT researchers falls within the "innovation sphere", with 95% of research addressing local problems and the university registering no fewer than 31 patents in the last year.

 

"The university also invests heavily in capacity development," Price stated, highlighting the fact that one third of the student population is postgraduate and that one third of UCT's doctoral students are from other African countries.

 

Dr Bevan Goqwana, committee chairman, agreed with Price's assessment of the university as being a resource for decision-makers like him.

 

"If we want to compete globally, we need to use what we have and know what we have. This is what caused us to accept the invitation to UCT ... We know there is no way you can dynamically bring about change in policies without research and development," he explained.

 

Professor Danie Visser, deputy vice-chancellor for research, gave an overview of the UCT's research activities, which was followed by presentations by research luminaries and laboratory tours to give committee members greater insight into the many areas in which they can expect assistance from UCT.

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Genetically engineered 'plantibodies' to halt Ebola

Genetically engineered 'plantibodies' to halt Ebola | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

While little can be done to curb the current outbreak of Ebola in Africa, when the next outbreak happens, the world will be armed with cheap but powerful biologics made using plants, says UCT plant biotechnologist Professor Ed Rybicki.

 

Recent news from the BBC reports the World Health Organisation saying that a serum made from the blood of Ebola survivors could be made available in Liberia within weeks.

 

Liberia has been hardest hit by Ebola deaths, followed by Guinea and Sierra Leone, and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone will rise dramatically by January 2015.

 

The WHO's Dr Marie-Paule Kieny says trials for two promising vaccines could produce initial results by the end of the year.

 

Worldwide, governments have been on high alert to halt the spread of the disease, spotlighting the need for emergency vaccine technology: vaccines that can be made quickly, cheaply and safely.

And biologics, drugs that can be created by genetically re-engineering plants or even plant viruses to produce vaccines and antibodies needed to curb diseases like the Ebolavirus, could be the answer.

Biologics are not new, says Rybicki, a genetic engineer who heads up UCT's Biopharming Research Unit (BRU), but they are the latest growth area for pharmaceutical companies, and part of new approaches to disease prevention.

 

And plants like the humble tobacco are key.

 

Vaccine antigens, substances that provoke an adaptive immune response, can be made in plants. These antigens treat a host of diseases and cancers by mimicking proteins and other molecules found in disease-causing organisms, and eliciting protective antibodies in the human body. It’s also possible to make therapeutics to treat rare genetic diseases: for example, the now-licenced biologic Elelyso, used to treat Gaucher's disease, is made in carrot cells.

 

However, recent attention worldwide has focused on making therapeutic monoclonal antibodies in plants. These plant-made antibodies, or "plantibodies", are completely safe for humans and will pave the way for low-cost therapeutics and change the way we treat viral and other diseases, adds Rybicki.

"You can make a complex vaccine in plants that's as good as a conventional vaccine," he said in a recent TEDxCapeTown talk.

 

It's technology that's been incubating at UCT since the 1980s.

 

UCT's Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) was founded from the Subunit Vaccine Group that developed from the plant virology laboratory started in the 1970s. Rybicki has been at the helm since 1985.

 

Since then he and his team have collaborated with organisations inside and outside the country on mainly human viruses of 'vaccine interest'. In 1999 they became part of two big local vaccine development consortia, the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative (HIV-1 subtype C) and a project on novel vaccines against human papillomavirus, the cause of cervical cancer.

 

"We've succeeded in establishing a first-world technology in a developing country where many of the proponents of the technology claim to want to see it used."

 

While transient expression technology can produce antigens or antibodies in tobacco leaves in just a few days, and harvesting and processing them takes just a few more, the scale of production for therapeutics in particular can be huge, and the processing facilities very expensive, largely beyond African resources.

 

Charles Arntzen of Arizona State University, the plant biologist who helped establish the "plantibodies" technology, points out it takes 30 to 50 kg of tobacco leaves for a single course of ZMapp, the US-Canadian experimental therapy antibody-based drug for Ebolavirus, and four-to-six months to get clinical-grade medicine.

 

The clinical grade batch of ZMapp, manufactured by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical was tested on macaque monkeys. A recent article in Nature reported that of the 21 macaque monkeys infected with Ebolavirus, the 18 that got three doses of ZMapp lived.

 

There's promise and hope.

 

"But we don't know whether it works for humans because we haven't had a full-scale human trial," says Rybicki.

 

Ebola haemorrhagic fever, assumed to be carried by bats, first appeared in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan in 1976, in DRC again in 1995, and several times since; however, these outbreaks have all been small compared to the current West African epidemic.

 

It was the 1995 Kikwit epidemic in the DRC that grabbed Rybicki’s attention and fuelled his interest in the field – largely because he was able to use an honours student’s essay on emerging diseases, plus daily updating from various sources, to provide some of the only reliable information on Ebola on the then-very-new World Wide Web.

“It kills up to 90% of people it infects and is highly unpredictable, popping up wherever it feels like it, from West Africa to the southern Congo to Uganda, and it also hits healthcare workers.”

 

A recent news report said that ZMapp could be made somewhere in Africa and that South African officials had been in talks with US officials and the manufacturers of ZMapp to develop a facility here.

“We most certainly have the expertise and research infrastructure to support a facility,” Rybicki was quoted. “Trouble is, it needs to be built.”

 

While the technology produces drugs faster and cheaper than traditional methods, it’s not as simple as mixing it up in a laboratory, certainly not in the case of an Ebolavirus vaccine.

 

Vaccine development is not only about emergency situations; it’s also about capacity building.

Vaccines are needed to boost the country’s emergency response capabilities in the face of ‘old foes’, viruses such as influenza, and the newly emerging viruses such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, distantly related to the coronavirus from 2003 that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

 

And then there are initiatives to curb the silent killers, like cervical cancer.

 

Earlier this month the BRU joined forces with the Canada-based biopharmaceutical company Medicago to develop a vaccine against human papillomaviruses (HPV), which cause cervical cancer.

Having perfected their “biofarming” process over many years, the UCT unit was the first group worldwide to produce significant amounts of human papillomavirus protein in plants, Rybicki added.

In fact, the unit’s new name reflects this shift from basic virology and vaccine research, towards more applicable research to produce “farmed” human and animal therapeutics in plants.

 

Aside from HPV, BRU has also worked on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), avian and human influenza, as well as animal viruses such as bluetongue virus, and beak and feather disease virus of parrots, and enzymes of interest to diagnostic kit makers.

 

"Because the main advantages vaccine farming has over conventional production are the speed of response and the extreme scalability of production, it should initially be used for 'niche' products such as emergency response vaccines and bioterror response vaccines," says Rybicki. "This is because a short response time is vital in responding to unexpected outbreaks or incidents, and scale of production essentially depends only on how many plants are available, or needed – rather than on expensive and hard-to-expand fermentation facilities.

 

"Thereafter, and only when the products have become established in terms of acceptability and efficacy, it's likely that the major niche would be in biosimilar or generic production, where the lower cost of material in large-scale production would become a major factor in determining economic viability," he wrote in a co-authored Human Vaccines paper in 2011.

Since Ebola has been on the radar since the 1970s, why has it taken so long to produce vaccine and medicines?

 

"It's worth remembering that in the years between the first outbreak of Ebola in 1976 and the next in 1995, only a few labs worldwide were working on Ebola," Rybicki explains.

"And they were mainly in the Soviet Union and the US, and they were doing it because of the bioterror or biowarfare potential of viruses like this."

 

Recently Russia announced it was working on three new Ebolavirus vaccines, hoping to produce these in the next six months.

 

And while Ebola continues to dominate headlines, perspective is needed, says Rybicki.

 

"The number of people who've died through the recorded history of Ebola is less than the number who die of influenza every year: up to 400 000 worldwide, 40 000 of them in the US alone. While this may change – and we hope it does not – it is as necessary to have cheap vaccines for influenza and other diseases of low-income populations, as it is for Ebola. We hope we can help to provide them."

 

Compiled by Helen Swingler. Photo by Katherine Traut.

 

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'No health without mental health,' say UCT researchers

'No health without mental health,' say UCT researchers | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

Researchers at the University of Cape Town are looking at innovative ways to better understand and diagnose schizophrenia, a serious mental disorder that is associated with a great deal of impairment. Living with schizophrenia is the theme for this year's World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2014.

 

Professor Dan Stein, Head of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at UCT, notes that several divisions of the department are contributing to work on schizophrenia. "Public mental health is particularly important, because we need to address systemic issues in order to encourage patient recovery." At the same he notes that several projects are being undertaken in the department on the neuroscience of schizophrenia.

 

UCT researchers are part of a team that is examining the exact nature of the genetic basis for schizophrenia and looking for ways to aid diagnosis of the disorder.

 

"We are using cutting-edge genetic methods to study schizophrenia in the Xhosa population of South Africa. Our hope is that this research will help in the identification of genes that play an important role in this disorder in other contexts, and will so ultimately contribute to the prevention and treatment of this important condition," says Professor Stein, one of three principal investigators of the study.

 

Dr Fleur Howells, a neuroscientist at UCT, says: "Cognitive disturbances in schizophrenia are the limiting factor in the re-integration of these individuals into society. The research projects that are currently running, serve to investigate the neurobiological mechanisms which underlie these deficits in cognition.

 

"We are using a translational research design, where we assess the cognitive function of the individuals, using multi-modal brain imaging techniques, then make use of animal models to understand molecular mechanisms, which underlie the recorded dysfunction in cognition," she adds.

It is envisaged that this research strategy will aid psychiatrists when making diagnosis, and potentially develop novel therapeutic targets to specifically improve cognition in individuals with diagnosis of schizophrenia.

 

UCT researchers believe that people diagnosed with mental health disorders can lead productive lives but will need more supportive recovery environments.

 

Dr Goodman Sibeko, Clinical Research Fellow at UCT, is also of the view that, "in efforts to assist those suffering with mental illness in their recovery, doctors need to find ways of halting the revolving door of mental health in-patient treatment".

 

"At the same time we need to empower patients and those who care for and support them to take part-ownership in managing mental illness," he adds.

 

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Worldwide brain study is boosted by NIH grant

Worldwide brain study is boosted by NIH grant | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

A global initiative to pool data about the human brain has been funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Project ENIGMA – named after an allied code-breaking initiative in World War II – unites brain researchers in 33 countries to discover factors that help or harm the brain. The research alliance studies medical scans of the brain and DNA collected from 30 000 people.

 

"Our effort brings a new source of power to biomedical science: our global alliance pools brain scans and DNA in a monumental global effort to understand brain diseases," says Paul Thompson, co-founder of ENIGMA, and a professor of neurology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "The combined data is so vast that no one scientist could ever analyse it on their own. Together, we can screen each other's data to discover genes or medications that influence a range of neuropsychiatric disorders."

 

"The ENIGMA project gives us a power we have not had," says Dan Stein, head of the Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Brain-Behaviour Initiative at the University of Cape Town, and director of the South African Medical Research Council's Anxiety and Stress Disorders Research Unit. Together with Prof Odile van den Heuvel of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, Stein co-leads ENIGMA's efforts on obsessive-compulsive disorder, a psychiatric illness whose basis in the brain is one target of ENIGMA's studies; and he and his Groote Schuur Hospital colleagues, such as Prof John Joska, head of neuropsychiatry, also participate in its work on HIV and substance use, key illnesses in the South African context. "Risk factors for mental illness are complex, so worldwide screening of brain scans and genetic data will help us develop better assessment measures, and understand when treatments are most likely to work," Stein says.

 

"By relating genetic variations to differences in the living brain, ENIGMA has already identified differences in our DNA that affect the brain’s memory systems, across the world," says Nick Martin, co-founder of the effort in Queensland, Australia, and a former president of the Behavioural Genetics Association. "We can now apply the full power of modern genetic research to tens of thousands of brain scans, giving us new power to understand the causes of brain disease."

 

The economic and personal cost of brain diseases – such as multiple sclerosis and ALS – is increasing, but many neurological diseases remain hard to treat, as their underlying causes are unknown. The ENIGMA project identifies new sources of disease risk by screening brain scans and genetic tests collected across the world. Currently, computing facilities worldwide analyse ENIGMA's data around the clock, to detect effects of treatments or risk factors – effects that may vary worldwide.

 

The announcement of funding for ENIGMA comes as part of a major US programme to support 11 national centres of excellence – part of the NIH Big Data to Knowledge Initiative announced in 2013 – to discover patterns in large-scale collections of medical data. The efforts targeting large-scale biomedical data promise to discover better diagnostic tools for dementia, schizophrenia, and developmental disorders such as autism, which have been challenging to treat as their root causes are unknown.

 

"Worldwide efforts in medical research tend to pay off economically," says Michael Weiner, a professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, who leads international efforts to understand Alzheimer's disease. "As more medical tests and scans are collected, concerted efforts from scientists worldwide are needed to make the most of all the data."

 

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UCT up four spots in 2014 QS World University Rankings

UCT up four spots in 2014 QS World University Rankings | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

The University of Cape Town has maintained its upward trend in the annual Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings, moving up four places to 141st place for the 2014/2015 ranking cycle. The university was ranked 145 last year. The rankings will be released on 16 September 2014.

 

QS Rankings compare the top 800 institutions around the globe, looking at criteria related to research, employability of graduates, teaching and international outlook.

UCT's QS ranking has risen steadily over the last five years, achieving the following positions: 161 (2010), 156 (2011), 154 (2012), 145 (2013) and most recently, 141 for 2014/2015.

UCT's faculties have also performed well: the university is ranked in the top 100 in the "Life Sciences and Medicine" area, and just outside the top 100 in "Arts and Humanities".

 

UCT remains the top-ranked African university in the QS World University Rankings. In June, the QS University Rankings: BRICS 2014 ranked UCT among the top 10 universities in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

 

Similarly, in August this year, the 2014 Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) ranked UCT among the top 300 universities in the world, maintaining its position of top university in Africa. UCT is currently ranked 126th (and again the top university in Africa) in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013/2014; their 2014/2015 rankings will be released in October.

 

Professor Danie Visser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research at UCT, says while UCT continues to perform well in international rankings, it is important to look at their context. "None of the rankings give a perfect view of a university," says Professor Visser. "In particular, they do not take into account some of the crucial roles universities play developing countries. They do not, for instance, measure the extent of a university's social engagement - its responsiveness to the communities around us and in the rest of Southern Africa - or the degree to which a university develops capacity in Africa, growing the next generation of researchers. Both of these are crucial to UCT's mission."

 

However, a significant common factor in all rankings is the quality of research by an institution. "In this regard, UCT's ranking is indicative of an ongoing track record of research and academic excellence as well as a consistently high international standing and reputation," says Professor Visser. UCT currently has 34 A-rated researchers and more than 450 National Research Foundation rated researchers. The university hosts 33 Chairs awarded by the Department of Science and Technology’s South African Research Chairs Initiative. In 2013, UCT published more than 2 000 journal articles, 280 books and chapters in books, and more than 300 peer-reviewed conference proceedings.

 

Rankings remain important, according to Professor Visser: "A strong performance by UCT, as well as other South African universities, in international rankings helps to send out the message that students can receive a quality education in South Africa and Africa, and that Africa has world-class universities that produce cutting-edge research."

 

Media release issued by Riana Geldenhuys, Head: Media Liaison, UCT Communication and Marketing Department. Email: riana.geldenhuys@uct.ac.za

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UCT professor elected as next President of International Council for Science

UCT professor elected as next President of International Council for Science | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

A world-renowned mathematician and current South African Research Chair in Computational Mechanics, Professor Daya Reddy from the University of Cape Town, has been named the next President of the International Council for Science (ICSU).The announcement was made at the ICSU's 31st General Assembly in Auckland, New Zealand, this week. Another South African academic, University of Pretoria Vice-Chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey, has also been elected as ICSU Executive Board Member.

 

Professor Reddy from the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at UCT will take over the reins from Dr Gordon McBean, current President of the ICSU, in October 2017. Professor Reddy is presently the President of the Academy of Science in South Africa as well as the Director of the Centre for Research in Computational and Applied Mechanics.

 

Congratulating Professor Reddy on this remarkable recognition by the ICSU, Professor Danie Visser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research at UCT, said: "Professor Reddy’s election is not only a feather in the cap of UCT, but of the South African science community as a whole for its achievements and contributions to science dialogue and exchanges, and for ultimately helping to address global challenges. This international leadership position will enable UCT and our country’s science community to bring more African-born solutions to the table, when appropriate, and to accentuate the science breakthroughs made in the developing world."

 

According to the ICSU, the non-governmental organisation mobilises the knowledge and resources of the international scientific community to strengthen international science for the benefit of society. The ICSU has a global membership of national scientific bodies (121 members, representing 141 countries) and international scientific unions (31 members).

 

Professor Reddy says: "ICSU is in a special position to promote the values of science and to provide leadership in seeking scientific approaches to the world’s problems. I look forward very much to working with my colleagues in ICSU in the task of realising these goals. I am particularly keen to ensure that ICSU becomes as inclusive as possible, so that as the voice of science we are in fact able to mobilise the scientific community worldwide."

 

Born in Port Elizabeth, Professor Reddy obtained his BSc degree in civil engineering from UCT, followed by a PhD degree from the University of Cambridge. He was appointed professor of applied mathematics at UCT in 1989, and served as dean of its science faculty from 1999 to 2005. In 2004, former President Thabo Mbeki awarded him the Order of Mapungubwe (Bronze) for distinguished contributions to science. He also received the Georg Forster Research Award from the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany in 2012. He currently serves as Co-Chair of the InterAcademy Council, which delivers reports on scientific, technological and health issues for governments and global organisations.

 

Professor Reddy's research interests lie at the intersection of continuum mechanics, applied functional analysis, and numerical analysis and computing. His research programmes address issues such as the formulation in mathematical terms of problems in continuum mechanics; studies of how well such problems are posed; construction by computational means of approximate solutions; and studies of the quality of such approximations. His recent major interests have been in the areas of plasticity, biomechanics and mixed finite element methods.

 

Media release issued by Riana Geldenhuys, Head: Media Liaison, UCT Communication and Marketing Department. Email: riana.geldenhuys@uct.ac.za


Photo by Katherine Traut/UCT

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Learning to fly: lessons from computational fluid dynamics

Learning to fly: lessons from computational fluid dynamics | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

It's an intimidating subject to get your head around if you're not an engineer or a mathematician, but computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is creating a new revolution in engineering and technological development that will have a large impact on our lives – and space travel – in the near-future.

 

Although this computer technology is in its infancy, it's already a highly competitive commercial industry that generates R6-billion in licensing fees annually worldwide – and is dominated by only four computer codes. However, here in South Africa, a team from UCT is hoping to become the fifth power player in the CFD arena with their software tool, which they've named Elemental.

 

"CFD uses mathematics, specifically the type Albert Einsteinreferred to as Field Theory, elegant programming techniques, and the latest in computer hardware to model and simulate physics," explains Professor in Mechanical Engineering Arnaud Malan, based in UCT's Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE). Malan heads up the Elemental team and was the guest speaker at a recent Café Scientifique discussion on campus.

 

"CFD is not just virtual reality – it's a virtual model that uncovers the secrets and real subtleties about nature. It's at the point where we can progress with our designs to a place we haven't gone before."

Basically, the goal of CFD is to build a virtual 3D model of, for example, an aircraft, a steam turbine or a car engine with such accuracy that one can design that engine and watch it operate to within 95% accuracy. "That means that the prototype that you build and test has been fully designed on a computer beforehand. We cannot do this to date but we’re progressing very quickly towards this goal," says Malan.

 

In fact, Elemental has drawn the attention of top tech companies including Airbus, a leading European passenger aircraft manufacturer. In February this year, Malan's team signed a R2.5-million research agreement with Airbus Defence and Space that will establish SA in the high-tech world of space technology.

 

"Our software is so simple that if you saw it firsthand you'd think: 'This is crazy; it can't work!' But we've been able to create and sculpt – with small budgets and a very small team – CFD software that out-competes the best in the world by a significant margin."

 

A crisis in the engineering industry:

Although we live in very exciting times with unprecedented technological advances that result in countless innovations and produce tech billionaires, this has led to a crisis in the engineering industry, says Malan.

 

"What is causing this crisis is that, as the technology develops, the pressure to develop improved products increases. However, we're not seeing fast enough improvement in the efficiency or design when it comes to power generation, cars, aeroplanes and rockets. One rocket looks much like another, just as large aeroplanes all look the same."

 

Why are things not changing fast enough? "The simple reason is that the type of mathematics we're taught at school and the way we've been taught to think about the universe has been instilled in our minds through traditional education. In engineering today, the typical, classic methods have been pushed to their limits."

 

The new revolution:

However, CFD can break through these barriers and push engineering to the next level. "We want to create a new revolution by helping designers go beyond what can be done today. We need to design structures like aircraft wings and rockets that are less stiff, much lighter, much cheaper and quicker to manufacture. For example, aircraft wings that are more flexible and stents [small mesh tubes used to support narrow or weak arteries] that don't break. We also want to make technology that is socially responsive and makes a positive impact on people’s lives, because why do it otherwise?"

 

Malan also believes that transforming engineering education is crucial. "There is a resistance to change in educational programmes, but these need to be overhauled. At UCT, we've introduced new computational science courses, but I believe computational mechanics should be an engineering degree on its own."

Story by Carla Calitz. Photo by Je'nine May. Image of Elemental plane supplied by Prof Arnaud Malan.

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UCT professors bag three wins at NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards

UCT professors bag three wins at NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

UCT professors bag three wins at NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards

 

Three academics from the University of Cape Town have been honoured at the 16th Annual National Science and Technology Forum Annual National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)-BHP Billiton Awards for their contributions to the fields of science, engineering, technology and innovation in South Africa.

 

The winners were announced at a gala dinner on 3 July 2014, while eight other UCT academics were among the 56 finalists for the prestigious awards.

 

Emeritus Professor Eric Bateman, Director and Founder of the UCT Lung Institute, Department of Medicine, received the accolade for an individual who has made an excellent contribution to science, engineering and technology over a lifetime.

 

Professor Keertan Dheda, Head of the Division of Pulmonology, Department of Medicine, was recognised for his exceptional support of the fields of science, engineering and technology through research and its outputs over the last five to ten years.

 

The third award went to Associate Professor Arnaud Malan at UCT's Department of Mechanical Engineering. The award recognised an individual or a team for an outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology through research leading to innovation in a corporate organisation or institution. He is primarily responsible for developing Elemental software, which is described as a giant leap for technology.

 

Click here to read full article.

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Research Week: 12 – 16 May | UCT Libraries

UCT Libraries, in collaboration with the Research Office, have planned an exciting Research Week from Monday, 12 May until Friday, 16 May 2014. This is the first event of this type hosted by the Libraries to address the unique interests of research students and researchers within the broader context of their academic and social lives.

 

As seating is limited, places will be reserved as RSVPs are received. Please RSVP via the links provided in the programme below.

 

Click the following link to view the full programme:

http://www.lib.uct.ac.za/blog/news/research-week-12-16-may/

 

 

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Southern Theory in the Research Office

Southern Theory in the Research Office | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

A visit by a group of researchers from Australia and Brazil was the catalyst for a workshop on Tuesday 22 April at Allan Cormack House. Professor Raewyn Connell, author of Southern Theory (2007) and PERC visitor in 2011 was joined by University of Sydney colleagues, Associate Professor Fran Collyer and Patrick Brownlee and Dr Joao Marcelo Ehlert Maia from the Center for Research and Documentation of Contemporary History of Brazil, Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro. The workshop was hosted by PERC Coordinator, Dr Robert Morrell who is the research leader for the South African leg of the project.

 

Connell and Collyer were successful in bidding for an Australian Research Council Discovery grant for a project titled, ‘Global Arenas of Knowledge: Centre/Periphery Relations and Change in Knowledge Production on a World Scale’. The project spans three countries – Australia, Brazil and South Africa – and in each seeks to examine the construction of recent knowledge domains. These are HIV/AIDS, Gender and Climate Change. In each of these domains, empirical research is being undertaken to explore issues of centrality and marginality as reflected in citation/context analysis and the organizational practices and connections of knowledge-making institutions, in both the global periphery and the global metropole.

 

In order to develop a dialogue between UCT staff and the Global Arenas team, a morning of presentations was held. These included presentations by Professor David Johnson (English, Open University, UK) and Professor Kopano Ratele (Medical Research Council) who presented respectively on ‘Southern Theory: The Challenges of History and European Philosophies of Resistance’ and ‘Impossible Men’ or ‘An upside world: tradition, marginality and theorising masculinities from the centre/periphery’.

 

UCT staff with a PERC association contributed to a crammed but lively morning of discussion. Shadreck Chirikure, Archaeology, ‘UCT, 1500 years of connectivity between Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean world’; Laura Czerniewicz & Sarah Goodier (OpenUCT/CILT), ‘Charting the web presence of a climate change research institution’, Madeleine Duncan and Theresa Lorenzo, together with Adelene Africa, Roshan Galvaan, Harsha Kathard, Judy Mckenzie and Brian Watermeyer (Disability Studies: Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, UCT), ‘Exploring New Ways of Thinking about Disability in Africa’, Lesley Green (Social Anthropology), ‘The Parliament of Fishers: Translating small scale fishers’ ethics of care: co-ops, legal forms of personhood and the anthropocene’, Salma Ismail (Education) Dee Smythe (Law, Race & Gender Research Unit), ‘ Marriage, Land and Custom’ (based on her recent book with Aninka Claassens).

 

The Global Arenas Project is funded until the end of 2015. The research in South Africa is being conducted by Morrell, Professor Vanessa Watson (Architecture, Planning & Geomatics) and Dr Ralph Borland. In an allied project, Associate Professor Laura Czerniewicz (OpenUCT) and Sarah Goodier are researching bibliometric aspects of climate change research.

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Striving for Unimportance

Striving for Unimportance | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

Thando Mgqolozana launched his third book, UnImportance (Jacana Media, 2014) this month. The book is set at a South African university at a time of Student Representative Council elections. The main character, Zizi, is struggling to decide what to say in a speech where he will pitch to become the SRC president. The position will give him profile and make him famous, but does he really want to become important? Won’t this cut him off from his friends, expose his life to scrutiny and elevate him to a position where selfishness is the norm and noble goals forgotten as soon as the electoral platform is put away?

Thando works in the Research Development Cluster at the Research Office, based in Allan Cormack House. His are the courteous emails many UCT members of staff receive when it is time to report to funders on how grants were spent. His is the voice that patiently answers the phone and fields enquiries on matters relating to UCT’s research processes.

Thando’s first book was A Man Who is Not a Man (UKZN Press, 2009). This was a brave novel about the Xhosa circumcision process generally, but specifically about a botched circumcision and how it affects the life of the narrator, Lumkile. There has long been a taboo about revealing the secrets of this secret process and talking about the initiates, abakwetha. His second book Hear Me Alone (Jacana Media, 2011) approaches the Nativity Story from a novel African and iconoclastic position, centring on the meeting of Bellewa Miriam (the equivalent of the biblical Mary) and a young man, Epher, on the eve of the birth of an unexpected baby (Jesus).

During the launch at the Book Lounge, Thando was interviewed by Imraan Coovadia, fellow novelist and member of UCT’s English Department. Imraan was interested to hear how Thando had fixed on the title, Unimportance. In response, Thando explained that his protagonist has a longing to return to a state of ordinariness, unimportance, which is the opposite of what the position of SRC President elevates him to. He spoke about the political trajectory of student politicians, making the observation that his novel is interested to explore the role of conscience and constituency in a national environment where these are constant issues of media speculation.

The early reviews of Unimportance have hailed it as “Surreal, challenging, cutting and funny” by Rachel Zadok, and “Beautifully complex and beautifully simple” by Karen Jennings, who are Thando’s contemporaries in the South African literary landscape.

The launch was LIVE-tweeted by Helene Prinsloo, editor of the Books LIVE website:

Helené Prinsloo ‏@helenayp: ‘@thando_mgqo wanted to imagine what becomes of student politicians. "Those people don't end there, they become something" #livebooks’

Helené Prinsloo ‏@helenayp : ‘Once voters discover the rotteness of their potential leader, realising their power - what do they do with it?’

Helené Prinsloo ‏@helenayp: ‘@thando_mgqo does not know what he will write about next...’

Helené Prinsloo ‏@helenayp: ‘@thando_mgqo is still young, only 30 - this is his third novel. His editor says he might be one of her favourites #livebooks’

Helené Prinsloo ‏@helenayp : ‘Coovadia says it's hard to think of other novelists like @thando_mgqo #livebooks’

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Research Development Grant to promote Social Science methods in Health Science Research

Research Development Grant to promote Social Science methods in Health Science Research | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

The South African Social Science and HIV (SASH) Fellows Programme was launched last month. The programme is a key component of the NIH R24 funded collaboration between UCT and Brown University that seeks to strengthen HIV social science research and training. The award covers the period 2013-2018 and amounts in total to over R20 million.

The project – ‘Partnerships for the Next Generation of HIV Social Science in South Africa’ – is led by Professor Mark Lurie (Department of Epidemiology, Brown University) and Dr Christopher J. Colvin (School of Public Health and Family Medicine (SoPHFM), Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT). Among its aims are to develop academic capacity through curriculum development, teaching and mentoring, and fostering a culture of excellence in the interdisciplinary HIV social science research environment. Fellows who are selected receive various types of support including funding, mentorship and training opportunities. Mentorship and support is based both at UCT and at Brown University.

Dr. Colvin is a medical anthropologist and serves as Head of the new Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences in SoPHFM. He has a PhD in socio-cultural anthropology from the University of Virginia and a Masters in Public Health from UCT in epidemiology. Dr Lurie is an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist who has been conducting research in South Africa since 1994. Born in Cape Town, Lurie received his Masters degree in African History from the University of Florida and his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Two other key staff members from Brown University are Abigail Harrison and Caroline C. Kuo, both Assistant Professors in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Brown University. Alison Swartz, a lecturer in the Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences at UCT, is the final member of the core SASH staff team.

Thirteen Fellows have been selected for this round of the Programme. Each works in one of three strategic areas: Gender in HIV/AIDS Risk and Response, Antiretroviral Therapy Adherence and Expansion, and HIV Prevention for Women, Youth and Families. The Fellows are at different levels of study, ranging from Masters to the postdoctoral level. Many of the Fellows have connections to UCT. Dr Alex Muller is a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine. The SASH team from HAICU—Cal Volks, Sianne Abrahams, Lucina Reddy and Stella Kyobula-Mukoza—will be engaging in a group SASH project. Dr Brendan Maughan-Brown works as a Senior Research Officer at the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU). Ntobeko Nywagi has worked on range of research projects with the Women’s Health Research Unit in the SoPHFM at UCT. Vuyiseka Dubula, Tim Shand and Marlise Richter all work in different capacities at Sonke Gender Justice, and Zoe Duby and Kate Snyder work at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation. Finally, Aliza Waxman is a Fulbright-Fogarty Public Health fellow at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban.

SASH is supported by the Research Office and Robert Morrell (PERC coordinator) will be assisting with the mentoring, supervision and facilitation functions of the project.

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Taking UCT research into the world

Taking UCT research into the world | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

By engaging with communities outside of UCT, the university is fulfilling its most important transformative role. Addressing participants at the Social Responsiveness Symposium - and the launch of the 2013 Social Responsiveness Report - on 24 February 2014, Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price said if any testimony were needed to the commitment to transformation across the university, it could be found in the sphere of social responsiveness and engaged scholarship.

 

"We often risk thinking of transformation and our transformation agenda as being primarily about the demography of the student and staff bodies. In doing so we often forget that our most important transformative role is in engagement with the communities outside the university, and how we change those communities."

 

The symposium culminated in the launch of the 2013 Social Responsiveness Report, which had teaching and forms of engaged scholarship as its focus, compared to the research focus of previous years. Other highlights included a talk on the role of public intellectuals, and examples of how individuals and departments are making their work more publicly accessible; as well as examples of capacity building with communities and government officials.

 

To read more about the Social Responsiveness Symposium, and the university’s work in surrounding communities, read the March 2014 edition of Monday MonthlyTo find out more about UCT’s engaged scholarship, go to the Social Responsiveness website: www.socialresponsiveness.uct.ac.zaAlternatively, download a copy of the 2013 Social Responsiveness Report for yourself
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New early career initiative in the Research Offic

New early career initiative in the Research Offic | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

UCT has joined 11 other universities across Africa to pilot a new online professional development programme for early career researchers. The course aims to link scores of young researchers from seven countries for online seminars. The aim is to have live presentations - with interesting results. In the first seminar a cockerel entered the conversation! It had strolled onto the property of the University of Beua from a nearby poultry farm and, to the delight of the participants, it crowed on and off through a good part of the lecture by former Vice-Chancellor Prof Vincent Titanji. He was speaking on 'Developing your research niche and getting started with research plans'.

 

The course, called Structured Training for African Researchers (STARs), is being developed by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. The Research Office is coordinating the UCT pilot as part of its suite of activities to support the development of research capacity. The ACU has limited participation in the first pilot to 12 researchers per university. The UCT group includes staff from seven faculties.

 

The course focuses on generic skills and knowledge and consists of nine modules, each with an online seminar, assignments and tutorials. The modules, which run for three weeks each, have been authored by experts, in collaboration with researchers from the participating universities. The full course will be piloted twice with ongoing evaluations and feedback from participants. The final course will be made available to other universities in African and beyond under a creative commons licence.

 

The other countries participating in the programme are: Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria and Uganda.

 

In addition to Prof Titanji's topic, the modules also include:

 

Finding funding, developing proposals and your first grant applicationHow do you manage a research project?Researcher? Teacher? Administrator? Parent? Managing your timeBuilding effective collaboration and establishing partnershipsGetting your work in print: writing and publishing for academic audiencesBeyond the university: communicating and presenting research to non-academic audiencesEthics in academic lifeSupervision

 

Dr Mignonne Breier, research development manager in the Research Office, is the institutional coordinator and on the project advisory committee. Dr Nelleke Bak, director of Postgraduate Studies, is one of the module authors/presenters and all the staff of the Emerging Researcher Programme are involved in supporting the programme. Drs Lyn Holness, Gaelle Ramon and Charles Masango were also part of module authoring teams. The Centre for Education Technology provided guidance in the preparatory stages, advising on the choice of platform, principles of online learning, the development of curricula and materials and facilitating preparatory workshops.

 

The following universities are enrolled in the programme: Mbarara University of Science & Technology, Uganda; University of Buea, Cameroon; University of Ibadan, Nigeria; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana; Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria; Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, Nigeria; University of Namibia, University of Ghana, University of Nairobi, Kenya, and the Universities of Cape Town, Pretoria and Wits in South Africa.

 

The STARs project does not replace the Emerging Researcher Programme which continues to offer seminars, workshops, mentoring and research development grants in addition to supervision training which is open to staff of all levels.

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Nine new fellows a sign of UCT's 'research strength'

Nine new fellows a sign of UCT's 'research strength' | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

Nine fellows were inducted into the prestigious College of Fellows this year, "a great sign of the strength of research" at UCT, said Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price at the College of Fellows' annual dinner on 9 October 2014.

 

"You are role models," he said. "You are the reason why people come here to do postgraduate degrees. You are the reason why we have a high numbers of citations and get praised for the creative work that gets done at the university."

 

The new fellows for 2014 are:

Professor Sue Harrison from the Department of Chemical EngineeringProfessor Greg Hussey from the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM)Professor Murray Leibbrandt from the School of EconomicsProfessor Naomi Levitt from the Division of Endocrinology & Diabetology in the School of MedicineProfessor Steve Richardson from the Department of Geological SciencesProfessor Don Ross, dean of the Faculty of CommerceEmeritus Professor Clifford Shearing from the Centre of CriminologyProfessor Eric van Steen from the Department of Chemical EngineeringProfessor Nigel Worden, King George V Chair in the Department of Historical Studies

 

This year's recipients of the Young Researcher Awards were Dr Leigh Johnson of the IDM, Professor Helen Scott from the Department of Private Law, and Associate Professor Meg Samuelson from the Department of English Language and Literature.

 

Research insights

The two fellows invited to speak at the dinner were new inductee Professor Nigel Worden and Professor Vanessa Watson from the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics. Both reflected on the work they're doing in their respective disciplines.

 

Next year Watson and the African Centre for Cities (ACC) will embark on a £2-million study into urban food security in three smaller African cities. “In sub-Saharan Africa the number of people who were food insecure grew from 102 million in 1990 to 265 million in 2009. Africa was by far the most food insecure continent,” said Watson.

 

The problem is not necessarily one of supply, but the ability to access food and pay for it, said Watson. “In Cape Town, more than enough food comes into the city, yet 58% of households are either moderately or severely food insecure,” she explained.

 

Supermarkets have been making inroads into poorer areas in recent times, giving residents access to more affordable food. But according to Watson, supermarkets in poorer areas are more likely to stock calorie-dense, processed and nutritionally deficient foods instead of fresh produce. This is in stark contrast to more affluent areas, where the emphasis is on nutritionally rich, fresh produce.

 

Worden, whose research revolves around slavery in the Cape colony, noted that for the early colonial Cape, we lack the kind of personal and family records of the sort that exist in many other colonial societies. However this is compensated by official documents which are “vastly superior to records from any other colonial society”. He observed that North American scholars would give their eye teeth for the archival gems available here, such as household inventories – records of what people owned. Since slaves were considered property, "these inventories listed every single slave in the household, their families and sometimes also where they came from".

 

Worden believes that the archive very often traces "the footprints of people" at single moments in their lives, adding that the challenge for historians is to see the steps between the footprints: "Thanks to connections with sources and scholars, particularly across the Indian Ocean, it has become possible to do that. We're beginning to learn about the nature of the complete experience of the lives that slaves lived."

 

Story by Abigail Calata. Photos by Michael Hammond.

 

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UCT and Canadian biopharming group to develop HPV vaccine

UCT and Canadian biopharming group to develop HPV vaccine | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

UCT's Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) has joined forces with Canada-based biopharmaceutical company Medicago to develop a vaccine against human papillomaviruses (HPV), the cause of cervical cancer.

 

What makes this collaboration remarkable is that the vaccine will be produced in plants, says BRU director Professor Ed Rybicki.

 

"We're excited and honoured to work with one of the world's most advanced companies in the field of plant-made vaccines," said Rybicki.

 

Medicago’s earlier successes include candidate vaccines against influenza viruses, while the BRU has been at the forefront of HPV vaccine and plant-produced therapeutic research for the past 10 years.

 

The Canadian organisation is providing funding and some materials for the research, while the BRU will provide the expertise to develop and produce the virus-like particles that will be used as vaccines against HPV.

 

Marc-André D'Aoust, vice-president of research and innovation at Medicago said: "This collaboration has the potential to bring forth novel vaccine solutions against human papillomaviruses that provide improved protection from the wide variety of circulating virus strains."

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Research Administration: The Bridge to Sustainable Research

Research Administration: The Bridge to Sustainable Research | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

The global community is working to address health issues like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Through the Initiative on Research and Innovation Management (iRIM), a partnership program funded by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and managed by the Fogarty International Center (FIC) and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), several Sub-Saharan African institutions are building sustainable research environments to expand research capabilities at academic institutions. Learn more about research administration through these online tutorials and presentations.

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UCT congratulates Opie on NRF Lifetime Achievement Award

UCT congratulates Opie on NRF Lifetime Achievement Award | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

The University of Cape Town congratulates Emeritus Professor Lionel Opie of the UCT Hatter Institute of Cardiology Research, on receiving a National Research Foundation (NRF) Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday evening, 11 September 2014. The award recognises the lifelong research achievements of an individual who has made an outstanding or extraordinary contribution to the development of science in and for South Africa over an extended period of time. The contribution must be of international standard and impact.

 

UCT Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price said: "For four decades, Professor Opie has kept UCT at the forefront of international cardiological research. On behalf of the university, I congratulate Professor Opie for his lifetime contribution to this important field and I thank him for his long service to UCT."

 

Professor Opie is described as "Africa's best known heart doctor" in the citation for the Order of Mapungubwe (Silver) given by the President of South Africa in 2006 for his "excellent contribution to the knowledge of and achievement in the field of cardiology". This is just one of many awards that recognise his lifelong commitment to the lives of South Africans who suffer from heart disease.

 

In 2011 Professor Opie won the award of the National Science and Technology Forum-BHP Billiton Award that hailed his "Lifetime contribution to the improved understanding of the causes of heart attacks, and the more effective use of medication for heart diseases". He showed that damage to the cardiac muscle caused by heart attacks could be dramatically minimised by the simple act of blowing up and down a blood pressure cuff around the patient's upper arm. With the new technique, many more heart cells could be saved while the patient was being transported to hospital by ambulance. Opie has also received a silver medal from the SA Medical Research Council and the Wellcome gold medal for "Research of specific importance to South Africa".

 

Professor Opie is one of two recipients of the 2014 NRF Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Professor Hoosen Coovadia from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Kwazulu-Natal.

 

Media release issued by UCT Communication and Marketing Department. Email: linda.rhoda@uct.ac.za

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Research agenda front and centre at launch of 2013 Research Report

Research agenda front and centre at launch of 2013 Research Report | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

UCT wants to establish itself as a research-intensive university and hopes to do this through a renewed emphasis on cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary collaboration, improved support for researchers, and intensified efforts to integrate postgraduate students into international networks of scholars.

 

These lofty ambitions were outlined by Professor Danie Visser, deputy vice-chancellor for research, at the launch of the 2013/14 Research Report on 28 August 2014. They are also contained in the new research strategy that will go before Senate soon.

 

"What we can glean from the research report is that UCT does very well as a research institution, however there is still a great deal that we can unlock. The [research] strategy tries to set the general pattern on which we might do that. It describes the research principles we subscribe to and it sets out various things that we’d like to be," explained Visser, who hosted the annual event at the stately Smuts Hall.

 

Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price in his opening remarks drew attention to some of the research highlights from last year: "The number of new research contracts signed increased by more than 40%, and is valued at a record R1-billion. Furthermore almost 45% of our research contract funding came from foreign non-profit organisations."

Price expressed his pleasure at the fact that funding to postgraduate students increased to R175-million and funding to postdoctoral research fellows to R60-million. "We are also pleased to have more than 300 postdoctoral fellows," said Price, who noted that a decade ago there were less than 50 such fellows, and that this is an area of "significant growth" for the university.

 

Focus on humanities research:


Dean of the Faculty of Humanities Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, keynote speaker at the launch, asserted that humanities research provides society with a mirror in the constant "search of ways to understand and better the human condition”.

 

He argued that knowledge produced through humanities research is contingent on various factors, as its subject matter is humans, whose behaviour is often “unpredictable and contradictory".

 

"Humanities research and knowledge offer broad patterns rather than absolute truths. There's a longer gestation period for ideas and research. Thus the impact of the ideas is long-term, the knowledge produced is not suited for quick fixes, and over time the research percolates and provides material for more technical areas to build on," Buhlungu concluded.

 

Official proceedings ended when Dr Marilet Sienaert, executive director of the Research Office, handed the new research report to Price.

The full report is available online: www.research2013.uct.ac.za

 

Story by Abigail Calata. Photo by Je'nine May.

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Four Women in Science winners in 2014

Four Women in Science winners in 2014 | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

Four UCT scientists have been recognised by the Department of Science and Technology as part of their annual Women in Science Awards.

 

Professor of Mechanical Engineering Genevieve Langdon was the first runner-up for the title of Distinguished Young Woman Scientist in Physical and Engineering Sciences, followed by Associate Professor Michelle Kuttel from the Department of Computer Science, in acknowledgement of their "outstanding scientific contribution to advancing and building the knowledge base in their respective disciplines". Kwezikazi Mkentane from the Department of Medicine is one of ten women under the age of 35 who have received a PhD fellowship in recognition of an "outstanding ability and potential in research" and as encouragement to remain in research, while the Centre in Information and Communication Technologies for Development's Maletsabisa Molapo is one of six to be awarded a Tata Scholarship for her doctoral research in an area "where the participation of women in traditionally low".

 

"Women have been sidelined in all fields and facets of life for centuries (and still are), but their exclusion from and marginalisation in education has made it more difficult for them to join the mainstream in every area," said Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor in the August Mail & Guardian supplement marking the winners. "This is one of the reasons that every year in August, Women's Month, the Department of Science and Technology stages the Women in Science Awards to celebrate women by recognising and rewarding their research achievements, as well as encouraging young women to pursue science-related careers."

 

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Building capacity in Africa

Building capacity in Africa | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

The largest source of medical funding in the world - the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) - has assigned more than US$9million to UCT research projects aimed at building capacity in Africa, helping the continent solve global health problems at home.


The University of Cape Town attracted more direct grant funding from the US-based National Institutes of Health (NIH) than any other non-American university in 2013 - a sum that has grown more than three times in the last three years. "NIH grants are highly competitive," says Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Professor Danie Visser. "This growing support is confirmation that UCT, along with other research institutions in South Africa, is recognised internationally for making a significant contribution to solving global health issues."

 

These research grants make it possible for UCT's researchers to tackle some of Africa's most intractable and neglected health problems, while building capacity in Africa: most of the projects are large-scale, and many involve collaboration with partner universities on the continent.

 

One of the recipients of this funding, Associate Professor Crick Lund from the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, believes this kind of success isn't just testament to UCT's top scientists and infrastructure; it's also about the university's location: "If we're talking about [building capacity in] lower- and middle-income countries, UCT is perfectly placed. We are the logical conduit for research in sub-Saharan Africa on a variety of health challenges."

What kinds of projects are being funded?

Sickle cell anaemia


Sickle cell anaemia is the number-one human monogenic disease in the world - 300 000 people are diagnosed with it every year, the average life expectancy for patients in the US is 47, and the only effective treatment at the moment is bone marrow transplantation, which is expensive and largely unavailable in Africa.

Senior specialist in the Division of Human Genetics Associate Professor Ambroise Wonkam is trying to find out why some patients get sicker than others. He and his colleagues - based in South Africa, Cameroon (Wonkam's home country), Ghana and Tanzania - are looking for genome variations that can determine which patients have the disease from birth.

 

"In Africa, we don't know, but we think around half may die before one year," says Wonkam. "Seventy percent of those with the disease were born in Africa, yet 70% of what we know about it was discovered outside Africa. It was first described 100 years ago in the US, but it has largely been abandoned since then, while other much more recently discovered diseases - such as HIV - have been attracting attention. We in Africa have to solve these problems ourselves: it is our duty."

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Building capacity in Africa

Building capacity in Africa | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

The largest source of medical funding in the world - the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) - has assigned more than US$9million to UCT research projects aimed at building capacity in Africa, helping the continent solve global health problems at home.


The University of Cape Town attracted more direct grant funding from the US-based National Institutes of Health (NIH) than any other non-American university in 2013 - a sum that has grown more than three times in the last three years. "NIH grants are highly competitive," says Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Professor Danie Visser. "This growing support is confirmation that UCT, along with other research institutions in South Africa, is recognised internationally for making a significant contribution to solving global health issues."

 

These research grants make it possible for UCT's researchers to tackle some of Africa's most intractable and neglected health problems, while building capacity in Africa: most of the projects are large-scale, and many involve collaboration with partner universities on the continent.

 

One of the recipients of this funding, Associate Professor Crick Lund from the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, believes this kind of success isn't just testament to UCT's top scientists and infrastructure; it's also about the university's location: "If we're talking about [building capacity in] lower- and middle-income countries, UCT is perfectly placed. We are the logical conduit for research in sub-Saharan Africa on a variety of health challenges."

 

 

Visit www.researchoffice.uct.ac.za to read full article.

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Building named after Nobel laureate

Building named after Nobel laureate | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

A family man, who enjoyed solving problems and had a great sense of humour.

 

These were words Emeritus Professor Kit Vaughan used to describe the Nobel laureate at the naming of Allan Cormack House. Cormack, a nuclear physicist who studied and worked at UCT before immigrating to the US, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1979 for his contribution to the development of computed tomography or CT scanner.

 

The building named after him houses UCT's Department of Research and Innovation among others.

 

His youngest daughter Jean Cormack was present at the naming ceremony hosted by UCT registrar Hugh Amoore. Cormack, who was born in Cape Town but lives in America, was visiting her South African cousin, Jo Prentice, whose mother Amy was Allan Cormack's sister. She said she was honoured that the university had chosen to remember her father in this way.

 

Vaughan, who won the 2010 UCT Book Award for his biography of Allan Cormack, Imagining the Elephant, quoted from Cormack's acceptance speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize together with Godfrey Hounsfield: "There is irony in this award since neither Hounsfield nor I is a physician. In fact it is not much of an exaggeration to say that what Hounsfield and I know about medicine and physiology could be written on a small prescription form."

 

Vaughan noted that the speech perfectly illustrated Cormack's "self-deprecating humour and genuine humility". He donated a copy of his book to the occupants of Allan Cormack House adding that he trusts that the occupants "will take the time to find out more about the man after whom (their) building is named".

 

Story by Abigail Calata. Image by Michael Hammond.

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Price to head World Universities Network

Price to head World Universities Network | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

Dr Max Price, UCT Vice-Chancellor, recently took over the reins as Chair of the Partnership Board of the World Universities Network (WUN).

At a dinner in the historic Smuts Hall Price thanked outgoing Chair, Dr Indira Samarasekera from the University of Alberta, "for the sterling way in which she steered the ship" and said he was "honoured" by the confidence shown by the board members who elected him.

Representatives from WUN member universities were in Cape Town for the organisation's annual general meeting. Price, who is serving a two-year term, is the first Chair from the Global South. It is also the first time that WUN's annual general meeting was held in Africa and in the Southern Hemisphere. Price remarked that this signalled the organisation's "coming of age".

WUN is a collection of 17 research-led universities committed to building global research communities by supporting collaboration. The Partnership Board is responsible for the network's policy and comprises presidents and vice-chancellors or rectors from member universities.

Outlining the collective vision of the organisation, Price revealed that WUN aims to grow its membership to 25 over the next five years. He pointed out that WUN had no members from South America and membership gaps in - among others - Africa, Southeast Asia, Central Europe and mainland China.

"By increasing our spread we establish ourselves as a network that tackles world issues," he explained.

He observed that WUN members ensured their students were prepared for an increasingly globalised world by "facilitating student mobility" and by raising large research grants "that can sustain cross-continental, cross-institutional research projects".

Price added that the network played a crucial role in the development of leadership, explaining that institute leaders were able to "draw on the wisdom of (their) peers".

"As we survey what WUN has become, it is clear that the network is unique. Unlike its competitors it is not too large, nor is it focused on just one region. We have something unique and it is something we remain committed to," he concluded.

Story by Abigail Calata. Image by Michael Hammond.

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Is academic writing risky?

Is academic writing risky? | UCT Research Office News | Scoop.it

At a book launch held at the Research Office, a new book on academic writing was launched recently. Edited by Lucia Thesen and Linda Cooper of CHED, the book ‘Risk in academic writing: Postgraduate teachers, their students and the making of knowledge’ was the result of almost five years of endeavour.

 

The argument of the book is that the writing of research raises many dilemmas for both students and supervisors. Framed as risk-taking, these dilemmas should be seen as a productive force in teaching, learning and writing that can challenge the silences and erasures in academic traditions and conventions of writing. Widening participation and the internationalisation of higher education make questions of language, register, agency and identity in postgraduate writing all the more pressing. This book offers a powerful argument against the further reinforcement of Anglophone understanding of knowledge and its production and dissemination.

 

(View full story at www.researchoffice.uct.ac.za)

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