Contributors - University of the Witwatersrand


  • Professor Rob Veale

    Professor Rob Veale
    11th May 2012

    Background

    Prof Veale completed his BSc, BSc hons and PhD studies at Wits. He further went on in his Wits career to become the current Head of School of Molecular and Cell Biology. Prof Veale acted as referee/reviewer from time to time for the South African Journal of Science, Cell Biology International and Bioscience Reports. He has received numerous awards, including Continental Ethicals Award in 1987 for the best young researcher in gastroenterology, and in 1997 the Convocation Distinguished Teachers Award in the Faculty of Science. He has supervised numerous post-graduate students and published over 20 peer-reviewed journal articles and has been the PI of the Cell Biology Laboratory at Wits for the past 20 years.

    Research interests

    Prof Veale’s research interests lie in aspects of cellular growth, differentiation and neoplasia, employing modern tissue culture, biochemical, molecular biological and immunological techniques. His current investigations are particularly in the properties of human oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (HOSCC).

    Oesophageal cancer is the sixth most common cancer world wide. It is the most common cancer in South African black men, and second only to cervical cancer in black women. The Southern African survival rate for oesophageal cancer in patients with metastases is extremely low making studies of the fundamental problems associated with tumour growth and metastasis indispensable for improving prognosis. Metastasis is a complex cascade of events involving either increases or decreases in tumour cell adherence to adjacent cells or to the surrounding extracellular matrix.

    Prof Veale research group investigates the factors affecting oesophageal SCC invasion and metastasis. In particular, the quantification of the integrin and cadherin components synthesised and secreted by oesophageal SCC s; fibrinolysin activity in that it has been demonstrated that blockage of E-cadherin-dependent cell adhesion leads to a stimulation of plasminogen activator expression; the role of mdr in oesophageal SCC invasion; and the mediation of the above activities by selected growth factors.

    Contact information

    Prof Rob Veale, Tel: +27 11 717 6332

  • Professor Chrissie Rey

    Professor Chrissie Rey
    11th May 2012

    Background

    Chrissie Rey completed her BScHons and PhD degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand in Microbiology and Plant Pathology. She was Head of the School of Molecular and Cell Biology for 10 years. Currently she is a Professor in MCB and teaches plant pathology, virology and microbiology. Prof Rey was awarded the NSTF AWARD for Researcher, for Research Capacity Development in 2010 for capacity development through the mentoring of 82 postgraduate students over her 25 year career, from both South Africa and many other sub-Saharan African countries.

    Research interests

    Professor Rey runs the Cassava Biotechnology Programme, which undertakes research to improve cassava germplasm with regards to resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). She is working in conjunction with Mozambique in developing cassava for the southern African region, and building capacity for cassava transformation. Other general research interests are plant virus phylogeny, virus identification and diagnosis, and host-virus interactions.

    Specific current projects include:

    • Characterization of geminiviruses & satellites from cassava and tomato
    • Epidemiology of tomato curly stunt disease, CMD & cassava brown streak disease in SA, Mozambique and Tanzania
    • Biodiversity studies on whitefly vectors and viruses of cassava and tomato in SA and Mozambique
    • Genetic engineering for virus resistance, transformation and regeneration systems in cassava
    • Functional genomics studies of virus-host interactions in cassava and tomato

    Contact information

    Prof Chrissie Rey, Tel: +27 11 717 6324

  • Professor Michèle Ramsay

    Professor Michèle Ramsay
    11th May 2012

    Background:

    Michèle Ramsay obtained her PhD in Human Molecular Genetics from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently the head of the Molecular Genetics Laboratory (service and research) in the Division of Human Genetics at the National Health Laboratory Service. She holds a joint appointment as Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. Michèle teaches medical students and supervises MSc and PhD students and is joint editor and author of a textbook, “Molecular Medicine for Clinicians” (Wits University Press 2009). She is the Chair of the Wits Bioinformatics Steering Group and joint champion of a cross-faculty Research Thrust, “Molecular Biosciences: Health for Africa”, which focuses on an understanding of the molecular basis of health and disease in Africans. Since 1984, she has published over 100 papers in peer reviewed journals and many book chapters on the genetic basis of single gene disorders and more recently complex diseases.

    Research interests

    Her research interests include the genetic basis and molecular epidemiology of single gene disorders in South African populations and the role of genetic and epigenetic variation in the molecular aetiology of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and other diseases exacerbated by adverse lifestyle choices. The FASD research includes the use of a mouse model to investigate alcohol induced epigenetic remodelling as a mechanism of teratogenesis. Her other research interests include cystic fibrosis in the black African population, pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE), lipoid proteinosis, pigmentation in health and disease and hermaphroditism.

    Her current research collaborations include studies on obesity, hypertension, bone development, HIV related kidney disease and glaucoma in South African populations. In addition to being the reporting PI for this training program, she is Interim Director of the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (Wits University) which focuses on a molecular understanding of non-communicable diseases in African populations, joint PI of the first phase of the “Southern African Human Genome Programme”, chair of the Southern African Society for Human Genetics, chair of the Wits Bioinformatics Steering Group, joint champion of a cross-faculty Research Thrust, Molecular Biosciences: Health for Africa” and joint editor and author of a textbook, “Molecular Medicine for Clinicians” (Wits University Press, 2009).

    Contact information

    Prof Michèle Ramsay, Tel: +27 11 489 9214

  • Dr Monde Ntwasa

    Dr Monde Ntwasa
    11th May 2012

    Background

    Dr Ntwasa gained his BSc Hons in Microbiology from the University of Cape Town. He gained his PhD at Cambridge University, where he studied the early development of the Drosophila fruit fly and Lipid Modification of proteins.

    Dr Ntwasa joined the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town in 1996 before relocating to the University of the Witwatersrand in 1999. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in the School of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Witwatersrand.

    Research interests

    Dr Ntwasa is interested in the molecular basis of development and signal transduction. He is investigating the role played by a novel family of proteins characterised by a highly conserved N-terminal domain whose function is not yet defined. This domain now called Domain With No Name (DWNN) This protein, was identified during a screen for genes involved in apoptosis. We investigate the biological function of this gene using the fruitfly (Drosophila melanogaster) as a model organism. This project is conducted by MSc and PhD students and funded by CANSA and the National Research Foundation.

    Dr Ntwasa is also interested in innate immunity and bioprospecting. The Toll signaling pathway is responsible for the establishment of Drosophila dorso-ventral polarity in early (embryonic) development and for immune defence in later life. Activation of this pathway in the larvae and adults results in the production of antimicrobial peptides such as drosomycin that kill the invading microbe specifically. Dr Ntwasa’s team studies the signaling pathways controlling the immune response. His team also searches for new antimicrobial peptides.

    Contact information

    Dr Monde Ntwasa, Tel: +27 11 717 6354

  • Professor Anna Kramvis

    11th May 2012

    Contributor: Professor Anna Kramvis

    Background

    Professor Anna Kramvis is a long standing researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand. After completing her BSc Hons at Wits, she went further in her science career and graduated with her PhD in 1986. She was researcher and then lecturer in the Department of Microbiology at Wits until 1991. Currently, Professor Kramvis is a Reader in Molecular Virology, heads the Hepatitis Virus Diversity Research Programme (HVDRP) in the Department of Internal Medicine and has also been recently appointed as a Wits representative on the ACGT advisory committee. She has worked in the field of viral hepatitis for over 15 years and is NRF B-rated scientist.

    Research interests

    As a molecular virologist, the impetus of her research has been to characterize the genome of the African strains of Hepatitis B Virus and to determine whether there are mutations or variations in the isolates from Africans with and without disease, which may contribute to disease progression. She has been involved in the comparative analysis of hepatitis virus strains from various geographic regions of the world, in order to shed light on the origin, transmission and pathogenesis of viral-induced disease. To date, she and her team have characterised HBV isolates from HIV-negative individuals in our local population and are now carrying out parallel research in HIV-positive individuals.

    This research holds promises in the development of diagnostics and in custom designing of molecular antiviral and anti-tumour therapies. The progress in sequencing techniques, in computers and information technology has provided powerful tools in the analysis of the molecular evolution of viruses. In 2007, she was awarded the senior bioinformatics fellowship by the National Bioinformatics Network. She has published over 40 peer reviewed articles in international journals and regularly serves as an ad hoc reviewer for scientific journals.

    The HVDRP provides a platform for the training of research scientists and clinicians in scientific planning, methodology and interpretation in a molecular biology environment. The extensive and ongoing national and international collaborative networks established with laboratories in South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Gambia, the United States of America, Japan, China, Hong Kong Sweden, Belgium, Greece and Australia is proof of the importance of hepatitis virus research and its relevance both nationally and internationally.

    Contact information

    Prof Anna Kramvis, Tel: +27 11 488 3100

  • Professor Beverley Kramer

    11th May 2012

    Background

    Beverley Kramer is Assistant Dean of Research and Postgraduate Support in the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Professor of Anatomy in the School of Anatomical Sciences. She has taught in all aspects of anatomy such as gross anatomy, histology, embryology and developmental biology, oral biology and human biology (including physical anthropology). She has presented her research at numerous international and local Congresses.

    Research interests

    Beverley’s interests are in the fields Embryology and Developmental Biology. Her studies are mainly on factors affecting development, such as those of the endocrine cells of the pancreas, submandibular gland, and tooth. Embryonic stem cells are being utilised as part of this research. The area of tooth development and evolution has recently become a focus with financial support from the NRF. In addition she continues to do some research into factors affecting implantation of the embryo, as well keeping her interest in neural crest cells current.

    Contact information

    Prof Beverley Kramer, Tel: +27 11 717 2103

  • Dr Bavesh Kana

    Dr Bavesh Kana
    11th May 2012

    Contributor: Dr Bavesh Kana

    Background

    Bavesh Kana

    Bavesh is currently a senior research scientist at Wits University and is involved in conducting semi-independent research on identification and validation of novel drug targets for tuberculosis.

    He completed his PhD degree and postdoctoral fellowship at the MRC/NHLS/Wits Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit-DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research. He has been the recipient of a Columbia University – Southern African Fogarty AIDS Training and Research Program fellowship, twice, for postdoctoral training in 2004/5 at the Public Health Research Institute (PHRI) in New Jersey and has also undertaken several short-term working visits to collaborating labs at the University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania), Texas A&M University (Texas) and Harvard Medical School (Massachusetts) in the USA.

    Bavesh has also worked at CSIR during his doctoral studies. He has recently received the prestigious MRC Career Development Award and currently holds grants from the MRC, Wits and NHLS.

    Research interests

    A major thrust of his current research is the study of the relationship between the occurrence of clinically latent tuberculosis infection and the microbiological phenomenon of bacterial dormancy which is usually characterized by impaired culturability. The ability of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to enter into a state of reduced metabolic activity, which renders it refractory to treatment by conventional antibiotics and promotes immune subversion, is critical to the success of this pathogen.

    The resuscitation promoting factor (Rpf) is a muralytic enzyme that is predicted to cleave the 1,4 – ? – glycosidic bond in peptidoglycan and through an unknown mechanism significantly enhances the culturability of dormant Micrococcus luteus and aged mycobacterial cultures. Furthermore, the synergistic action of Rpfs with other peptidoglycan endopeptidases in M. tuberculosis may produce a range of molecules that play an important role in host immune and bacterial signalling, the latter involving the sensing of peptidoglycan by eukaryotic-like serine threonine protein kinases.

    Bavesh has been involved in studying the five Rpf homologues in M. tuberculosis and their roles in peptidoglycan remodelling, growth, pathogenesis and recrudescence during infection with the hypothesis that Rpf may provide a novel way of modulating bacterial growth during infection and as such these factors represent an interesting unexplored area of anti-tubercular drug discovery.

    He is also involved in the study of specialized DNA polymerases in M. tuberculosis and their role in genome plasticity and mutation which is pivotal to the evolution of drug resistance. In bacteria, low fidelity DNA polymerases (sloppy copiers) play a central role in promoting mutagenesis during DNA repair or whilst replicating across damaged DNA. In this regard, the Y-family of specialized polymerases has been shown to be important for mutagenesis in other organisms. M. tuberculosis possesses two umuC-like genes belonging to this family – dinB1 and dinB2 – whereas Mycobacterium smegmatis, a closely related saprophyte, possesses three. Whilst the role of a C-family polymerase in mutagenesis has been confirmed in mycobacteria, the function of the umuC-like genes is presently unknown.

    His other active area of interest is the study of the mycobacterial electron transport chain, specifically the role of hypoxic and anaerobic respiratory complexes in energy metabolism under stressful conditions and during non-replicating persistence. The modular electron transport chain allows for bacterial growth and adaptation under varying environmental conditions and thus represents a potential point of metabolic vulnerability in M. tuberculosis as evidenced by the recent development of inhibitors that target several steps in this pathway.

    Contact information

    Dr Bavesh Kana, Tel: +27 11 489 9030

  • Professor Scott Hazelhurst

    11th May 2012

    Contributor: Professor Scott Hazelhurst

    Background

    Scott Hazelhurst completed his BScHons and MSc degrees at Wits, and his PhD at the University of British Columbia. Currently he is Acting Director of Bioinformatics at the University of the Witwatersrand, as well as being an Associate Professor in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering.

    Research interests

    Responsible for the Computational Molecular Biology Research Programme, which has a strong algorithm and data structure design focus. At the moment the main focus is exploring problems which are very expensive, particularly taking into account large data sets. Key projects are:

    • EST clustering: looking at the design of a key algorithm in genome or DNA sequence assembly. The work has strong theoretical and engineering components. Our group also works with biologists who are using EST clustering as part of their work.
    • Parallelisation of algorithms using Linux clusters.
    • Applications of machine learning and intelligent agents,
    • Grid computing, and open source software development.

    Contact information

    Prof Scott Hazelhurst, Tel: +27 11 717 6181