National metabolomics researchers agree to build a network to facilitate interaction

Mx 2018
A national Metabolomics Stakeholder Session was held on the 31st of January 2018 at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria. Representatives from several research institutions from different parts of the country were in attendance. The institutions included the University of Johannesburg, North-West University, University of Pretoria, Tshwane University of Technology, University of the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch University, University of South Africa and the University of Cape Town. The meeting was intended to serve as a potential platform for the establishment of a formal society or network of South African metabolomics stakeholders. In this session, the benefits and expectations of such a society or network were also tabled.

The event began with presentations from representatives of the various research institutions. The presentations were intended to offer the stakeholders in attendance an opportunity to appreciate the metabolomics research expertise, interests and offerings from the other institutions. The presentations were also an opportunity for the institutions to put on display their strengths and to highlight their needs which could hopefully be addressed by collaborations through the formal establishment of a society or network. Dr Fidele Tugizimana from the University of Johannesburg then presented on the operations and benefits of the International Metabolomics Society (IMS) as he is on several IMS committees.

The presentations were followed by discussions about a path to the establishment of a more formal grouping of metabolomics stakeholders. It was highlighted that one of the goals for forming a society is improving the profile of metabolomics research and technology in South Africa and fostering networking, information sharing, mentoring, career opportunities, leadership training and professional development. Initiating a South African metabolomics network, as opposed to a more involved grouping requiring detailed documentation and significant administrative resources, was preferred due to its simplicity. Such a network will still be recognizable by local bodies as well as the IMS. An affiliation with the international society will be sought following formalization of the structure of the local body. This will provide recognition, ease administration and provide opportunities for bursaries and fellowships associated with the local metabolomics network. It was also agreed that synergies and cooperation with the recently established DIPLOMICS initiative will be explored moving forward.

It was agreed that one of the aims of the network would be to address the lack of an academic forum for metabolomics to provide academic insight and capacity building in the field. It was noted that the network will be more impactful when the members act in a non-fragmented manner; for example, when lobbying for institutional and financial support for positions associated with advancing the technology in the partner institutions. Removing fragmentation would include developing methods that are aligned with IMS standards and would lead to standardization amongst local researchers in the field. This in turn could lead to greater research impact.

There was a clear need for capacity building or collaborations as some institutions seemed to lack the infrastructure or certain expertise. A strong need was expressed to link the metabolomics data analysis component to skilled bioinformaticians. As there is no national event on the research calendar that has a specific metabolomics focus, plans will be put in motion to host annual stand-alone metabolomics symposiums or conferences and will be facilitated by the network. Potential sponsorships were briefly discussed should the network host metabolomics events. A provisional committee comprising at least one representative from each of the institutions present was established. Dr Fidele Tugizimana, who is affiliated with the IMS, will lead the route to formalization of the network. This will be done by collecting and compiling all the necessary paperwork and formalizing the South African Metabolomics Network.

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