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  • Constructive stakeholder discussions facilitated on South African Bioprospecting Regulations at the University of Pretoria

    Constructive stakeholder discussions facilitated on South African Bioprospecting Regulations at the University of Pretoria
    5th Nov 2019

    Life Science researchers from different background

    Life science researchers from and around Gauteng, gathered at the University of Pretoria for a Bioprospecting Regulations Forum on the 23rd of October 2019. This information sharing day was intended give the life science community an overview of the national legislative provisions on bioprospecting and biodiversity in South Africa and to address the concerns of the researchers on how these relate to their work. For context, “Bioprospecting economy is based on searching for, collecting, harvesting and extracting living or dead indigenous species or derivatives and genetic material thereof for commercial or industrial purposes.”

    Information sharing
    Healthy discussions and debates

    There was a clear need for these discussions between the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) personnel and Life Science researchers on the bioprospecting regulations. The meeting consisted of presentations that provided definitions and clarifications on different aspects of bioprospecting and biodiversity regulations in South Africa. The attendees were guided through key regulatory frameworks for bioprospecting, the Nagoya protocol, permits, compliance and benefits sharing. Healthy discussions and debates occurred throughout and after the presentations. Some of the discussion points were on how long the permit applications take, differences between bioprospecting vs scientific/basic research permits, amendments to the Biodiversity Act, the importance of the Nagoya Protocol and provincial level capacity and limitations.

    The African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) believes that the forum will improve the communication between the DEFF and the researchers applying for permits and also believes that interests are now more aligned. This event raised significant awareness on national bioprospecting regulations and addressed the concerns of the researchers in attendance. The ACGT is looking forward to working with the DEFF on other future initiatives such as this one. We would like to thank Ms Natalie Feltman and Mrs Lactitia Tshitwamulomoni from the DEFF and the delegates that were in attendance, for their contributions to the success of this event.

    For more info on the event; visit our Facebook page: link or contact Mr Molati Nonyane for further information at

  • UK-South African consortium is awarded an Agri-Tech Catalyst grant by Innovate UK for African crop improvement

    UK-South African consortium is awarded an Agri-Tech Catalyst grant by Innovate UK for African crop improvement
    18th Sep 2019

    A team of academics from the Universities of Edinburgh, Pretoria and Johannesburg, in conjunction with the South Africa-based multinational fertilizer company, Omnia Group, Ltd, was recently awarded the Agri-Tech Catalyst grant by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.

    The consortium submitted a proposal for improved cultivation and nutrition of the African staple, maize, to the Agricultural and Food Systems Innovation competition. Novel biostimulants will be screened and applied in greenhouse and field scale, and the effects on cultivation, as well as nutritional value of the crop, will be determined. The project will rely heavily on cooperation between industry and the academic partners.

    The analyses will be conducted in appropriately equipped laboratories at the University of Edinburgh (EdinOmics platform, Dr Karl Burgess) as well as at the University of Johannesburg (Plant Metabolomics, Dr Fidele Tugizimana). The research component will be heavily metabolomics-based, relying on the latest high-throughput methods developed at UoE and UJ. Hence, technology and expertise transfer between the UK and SA will be a strong project outcome. In addition, stronger academic-industry partnerships will also be forged during the implementation of the programme. The African Centre for Gene Technologies (Mr Molati Nonyane and Dr John Becker) will provide coordination and oversight and exploit opportunities for further programme growth and development utilising this investment.

    The project is envisaged to kick off in November 2019.

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  • I attended the 2019 International Metabolomics Conference held in The Hague …and I loved it!

    I attended the 2019 International Metabolomics Conference held in The Hague  …and I loved it!
    14th Aug 2019

    My involvement with the field of Metabolomics is in my capacity as Liaison Scientist for the African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) and as a committee member of Metabolomics South Africa (MSA). The ACGT represents the interests of three universities and two research councils in the Gauteng region (Wits, UJ, UP, CSIR and ARC. I coordinate ACGT’s Metabolomics capacity building activities which include, but are not limited to: meetings, workshops and symposiums; finding synergies between researchers and subsequently building linkages amongst ACGT partner institutions and relevant outside institutions. MSA is a non-profit organization seen as an opportunity to promote and improve the profile of metabolomics research and technology in South Africa, foster networking, training, capacity building, information sharing, mentoring, career opportunities, leadership training and professional development.

    I discovered through one of our colleagues from the University of Edinburgh that a Metabolomics Conference was to be held at the World Forum in The Hague, Netherlands from 23-27 June 2019. Attending relevant information dissemination events like the 2019 International Metabolomics Conference, helps me perform my roles well for the ACGT and its partners and also enables me to keep up with the trends in metabolomics research. A decision was then made that I would be attending the conference. I therefore registered to attend the conference and began with the travel arrangements. The visa came out in the nick of time, they do say better late than never. I managed to conquer the usual worries of travelling: Did I pack enough clothes? Did I forget something? Constant reminder that whatever I do, I better not miss the flight. Thankfully, there were no glitches in my travel and all went well. As a bonus, the city of The Hague in itself is amazing with efficient public transport and some great sites.

    There was a great South African presence at the workshop with delegates from University of Johannesburg, University of South Africa and North-West University. The conference provided an opportunity to listen to international metabolomics researchers from all over the world sharing their findings, an opportunity to network and identify relevant synergies so as to foster further collaboration amongst metabolomics researchers within SA and across the world. The ACGT already has relationships with some key international metabolomics players who have been assisting with capacity building activities over the past several years. This event provided an opportunity for some stakeholder management to continue to strengthen these relationships. This conference was also an opportunity to expand our contact list and open up new opportunities for collaborations and relationships with South Africans researchers.

    My takeaway from this conference is simply that there is a significant and continuing growth of metabolomics all over the world. The discipline has diverse applications in health, agriculture and industry. The ACGT and MSA will do all in its power to assist in pushing African Metabolomics in the right direction and keeping it globally competitive. I would like to encourage anyone who is involved in metabolomics or metabolomics related work to attend future International Metabolomics Conference as this was a worthwhile experience.

    My interests and professional involvements are not only limited to the field of metabolomics, I also continue to be involved in genomics and in life science research in aspects that include capacity building, fundraising and research coordination, nationally and internationally. For queries relating to any of the above fields, feel free to contact me at and we can discuss how I and/or the ACGT can be of assistance.

    Story by: Molati Nonyane

  • A beneficial Advanced Metabolomics Workshop is hosted by the ACGT at the University of Pretoria for metabolomics researchers from all over South Africa

    20th Mar 2019

    The African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT), the University of Johannesburg and the University of Pretoria organized the 2019 Advanced Metabolomics Workshop that was held at the University of Pretoria from 13-15th March 2019.  The workshop provided a capacity building platform to address key issues and challenges in the field of metabolomics.

    The workshop was facilitated by this panel of elite metabolomics experts. The facilitators were Dr Reza Salek (International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France), Dr Karl Burgess (University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK), Dr Fabien Jourdan (INRA Toulouse, France), Dr Justine Bertrand-Michel (INSERM Toulouse, France), Dr Naomi Rankin (University Hospital Wishaw, Scotland, UK), Dr Jasper Engel (Wageningen University & Research, The Netherlands) and Dr Fidele Tugizmana (University of Johannesburg, RSA).

    Useful tools

    This workshop covered advanced metabolomics topics using a combination of lectures, interactive round table discussions and computer-based practical sessions. The topics covered in the workshop included applications of metabolomics (clinical, plant/agricultural, industrial), LC-MS/MS/NMR metabolite identification, simple and multivariate statistics, data standards and metabolomics resource, network-oriented metabolomics data mapping, advanced data analysis, lipidomics, metabolomics networks and using fragmentation to enhance metabolite IDs. Throughout the three days, the delegates also had a chance to ask project-specific questions and advice from the with facilitators.

    The participants were from the ACGT partner institutions, as well as outside institutions including previously disadvantaged research institutions. There were participants from University of Pret

    Hands on training

    oria, University of Johannesburg, University of the Witwatersrand, Agricultural Research Council, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, North-West University, University of South Africa, Tshwane University of Technology, University of the Free State, Walter Sisulu University, University of Cape Town and the University of Venda. Delegates exhibited different scientific backgrounds and had the chance to get to know each other through two-minute elevator-type flash presentations on the first day of each workshop.

    Some fun was had too!

    The ACGT would also like to wish all the participants of the workshops all the luck with their work and future in metabolomics. Furthermore, the ACGT sends much deserved gratitude to all the members of the organizing committee; Mr Molati Nonyane, Mrs Itseng Malao, Dr John Becker, Dr Fidele Tugizimana, and the European visitors for all of their efforts in making this event a success. The ACGT would also like to extend their gratitude to the sponsors of this event in Thermo Fisher Scientific and the Embassy of France in South Africa.

    If you would like to view most of the pictures from this event, please visit our facebook page:

    The delegates and facilitators

    For any metabolomics-related capacity building and networking queries, kindly contact Mr Molati Nonyane, ACGT Liaison Scientist (, 0124206139).

  • Metabolomics South Africa (MSA) is officially launched during a Metabolomics Symposium in Pretoria

    Metabolomics South Africa (MSA) is officially launched during a Metabolomics Symposium in Pretoria
    20th Mar 2019

    The 2019 Metabolomics symposium was held at the Innovation Hub from 11-12th March 2019. This symposium was aimed at principal investigators, postgraduate and PhD students currently performing or planning to work in the metabolomics field. This event was an opportunity for both local and international metabolomics researchers to share their findings, to network and identify synergies so as to foster further collaboration amongst metabolomics researchers within SA and across Europe. This symposium was mainly a platform to officially launch Metabolomics South Africa (MSA). MSA is a non-profit organization seen as an opportunity to promote and improve the profile of metabolomics research and technology in South Africa, foster networking, training, capacity building, information sharing, mentoring, career opportunities, leadership training and professional development. The symposium was a first official event hosted by MSA with the assistance of its partner, the ACGT.

    The first day of the symposium was themed “Metabolomics, where are we?”. Topics discussed throughout the day included the overview of metabolomics in South Africa, good metabolomics data, role of metabolomics in health sciences, lipidomics and plant metabolomics. The discussions on the second day of the symposium were under the theme “Metabolomics, informatics, statistics and applications” and covered topics such as metabolomics networks, statistical models, NMR metabolomics and lipidomic profiling.  At the end of each day, attempts were made to finish off with round table discussions to address burning issues or questions on the day’s talks as well as other issues regarding to metabolomics or MSA.


    It is worth mentioning several key speakers that participated and contributed to the symposium. The speakers mentioned below are all key contributors to the field of Metabolomics and we are thankful that they shared their work and experiences. These were the presenters at the event in no specific order:

    • Dr Reza Salek is currently with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France. Dr Salek has extensive experience in metabolomics research in academia, industry and research institutes with extensive metabolomics knowledge, both analytical and data handling. Dr Salek has worked in clinical trial settings and is interested in setting up workflow infrastructures for metabolomics data handling and analysis using cloud computing.
    • Dr Karl Burgess is from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Most of Dr Burgess’s workfocuses on the use of mass spectrometry in biomedical research, particularly in the understanding of infectious disease. This multidisciplinary research area builds on his fruitful collaborations with cell biologists, engineers, bioinformaticians, instrumentation developers and clinicians.
    • Dr Fabien Jourdan is a research scientist at the French National Research Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA). Dr Jourdan develops computational methods to study human genome-scale metabolic network aimed at retrieving parts of the metabolism affected by genetic or environmental perturbations. These methods are mainly applied to toxicology and human health.
    • Dr Naomi Rankin is from the University Hospital Wishaw, Scotland, UK. Dr Rankin’s research interests focus on the use of NMR for metabolite profiling and advanced lipoprotein profiling of serum and plasma samples. She is particularly interested in the use of these methods in epidemiology/clinical trials, especially with a view towards translation of NMR molecular profiling approaches into the clinic.
    • Dr Jasper Engel is a researcher at Biometris at Wageningen University & Research. Dr Engel’s primary research interests are in applied statistics. He is interested in the development and careful evaluation of statistical approaches for processing and analysis of complex high-dimensional data sets, and their application in high-dimensional chemical, biological or medical problems. Over the last several years his research has mainly focused on method development for analysis of metabolomics experiments.
    • Dr Justine Bertrand-Michel is the co-director of the MetaToul Lipidomic facility at INSERM in Toulouse, France. Dr Bertrand-Michel is a lipidomics expert and she was invited to this symposium because of her work in lipidomics a field that most people in metabolomics have shown a keen interest in.
    • Dr Fidele Tugizimana is the chairman of MSA, a research scientist at the University of Johannesburg, a specialist scientist in the international R&D management of the Omnia (Pty) Ltd company (SA) and a scientific consultant in the L.E.A.F. Pharmaceuticals LLC (USA & Rwanda). Dr Tugizimana applies metabolomics approaches in plant-environment interactions (involving abiotic/biotic stresses, beneficial microorganisms, etc.).
    • Prof Du Toit Loots is the secretary of MSA and a key member of the national metabolomics platform based at the North-West University in Potchefstroom. Prof Loots has made a substantial contribution to the advancement of metabolomics, by means of developing much of the published methodology and applications in terms of identifying new markers for better disease characterization, diagnostics and treatment since 2002.
    • Dr Aurelia A. Williams is the deputy secretary of MSA and a senior lecturer at the biochemistry department of the North-West University. Her research interests include characterizing the impact of molecular traits, metabolism and the immune response on disease pathogenesis. She believes metabolomics will serve as a tool in better characterizing infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, HIV-associated comorbidities, virus-host interactions, treatment response mechanisms and pathogenesis-associated phenotypes.
    • Dr Zandile C. Mlamla is a committee member of MSA and a post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), University of Cape Town (UCT). Her research is currently aimed towards the validation of urinary biomarkers of Tuberculosis Disease. She continues to gain experience and expertise in the cutting-edge field of MS-based lipidomics.

    The future of South African metabolomics will be in great hands if the student sessions over the two days are anything to go by. On day one, the student presenters were Mr Efficient Ncube from the University of Johannesburg, Mr Emile Jansen van Rensburg and Ms Monique Combrink both from the North-West University. The student session on day two was by three students from the North-West University in Ms Karin Terburgh, Mrs Zinandre´ Stander and Christiaan van Zyl. The students presented their ongoing work and they received great contributions from the people that attended the symposium in the form of question and suggestions.

    Well over 140 delegates from over 25 institutions attended this symposium. They consisted of principal investigators, post-doctorates, researchers, post graduate students and several industry players. The hope is that most of them will register as member of MSA and take an active role in the growth of MSA and metabolomics in general.  The ACGT and MSA would like to thank all the delegates who registered to attend this event as well as all the members of the organizing committee; Mr Molati Nonyane, Mrs Itseng Malao, Dr John Becker, Dr Fidele Tugizimana, MSA Committee and the European visitors for all of their efforts in putting together this event. The ACGT and MSA would also like to extend their gratitude to the sponsors of this event in Shimadzu, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Microsep/Waters and the Embassy of France in South Africa. Please look out for more MSA and/or ACGT events similar to this symposium in the future.

    If you would like to view more of the pictures from this event, please visit our facebook page:

  • SA Metabolomics Association established and officially affiliated to a prestigious international scientific body

    SA Metabolomics Association established and officially affiliated to a prestigious international scientific body
    10th Jul 2018

    The end of June 2018 marked a significant moment in the South African metabolomics research space as the Metabolomics Association of South Africa (MASA) was officially affiliated to the International Metabolomics Society (IMS), effective 1st July 2018. Supported by the ACGT, in a stakeholder meeting held in January 2018 at the CSIR International Convention Centre (ICC) in Pretoria, local metabolomics representatives from several research institutions and industry, unanimously agreed to formally establish a non-profit organization, the MASA, and seek affiliation to the IMS. Such motion rose from the realisation of benefits of having a local structured platform that would provide the opportunity for collaboration among scientists in the field and related sciences, and connection between academia, government and industry. This would promote and improve the profile of metabolomics research and technology in South Africa, foster networking, training, capacity building, information sharing, mentoring, career opportunities, leadership training and professional development. Furthermore, the affiliation with the IMS provides international recognition, enhances the local association’s effectiveness and promotes awareness of locally and internationally available resources and joint initiatives of mutual benefits.

    Thus, a committee was formed with at least one member representative from institutions that have active metabolomics research and development programs. The following were the individuals nominated into the committee:

    • Dr Fidele Tugizimana (University of Johannesburg) – Chairperson
    • Prof Duncan Cromarty (University of Pretoria) – Deputy Chairperson
    • Prof Du Toit Loots (North-West University) – Secretary
    • Dr Aurelia Williams (North-West University) – Deputy Secretary
    • Dr Wilma Augustyn (Tshwane University of Technology) – Member
    • Prof Geoffrey Candy (University of the Witwatersrand) – Member
    • Dr David Tabb (Stellenbosch University) – Member
    • Mr Molati Nonyane (African Centre for Gene Technologies) – Member
    • Dr Nelson Soares (University of Cape Town) – Member, and
    • Prof Gerhard Prinsloo (University of South Africa) – Member.

    The MASA chairman, Dr Fidele Tugizimana, already serves on several IMS committees and was nominated to spearhead the registration and affiliation of MASA with the IMS. Dr Tugizimana, with the assistance of the committee, compiled the required documentation for the application for MASA to be affiliated with the IMS. The documents and application were submitted by Dr Tugizimana a few days before the 14th International Conference of the Metabolomics Society, held in Seattle from the 24-28th of June 2018.

    The IMS president, Prof Jules Griffin, announced during the opening and closing sessions of the conference that the MASA was officially affiliated with the IMS. During the international affiliates meeting, the president of the IMS confirmed that the IMS will support the MASA’s activities, particularly in training and other activities which boost the profile of metabolomics research in SA. Prof Griffin also highlighted that he would be happy to join future MASA symposia or conferences, if the dates match his availability.

    Representatives from all the IMS international affiliates after their meeting in Seattle, USA. Dr Fidele Tugizimana is to the far right with president of the IMS, Prof Jules Griffin, next to him.

    MASA will promote the growth and development of the field of metabolomics, particularly in South Africa and on the continent of Africa. MASA will also provide the opportunity for association and collaboration among scientists and connections between academia and industry in the field of metabolomics; provide opportunities for presentation of research achievements and for training workshops; promote the publication of meritorious research in the field; and furthermore, facilitate any other activities in support of and to benefit the above purposes.The affiliation will provide opportunities for bursaries and fellowships associated with the local metabolomics association.

    The MASA committee will meet soon to lay out plans for future activities, branding, websites and other logistical steps. Once the MASA has gained further momentum, plans to host the International metabolomics conference in South Africa will be considered as per the IMS policy to rotate the conference location across the globe. The ACGT will continue to inform and update the metabolomics community on all developments.

    For any queries or additional information, kindly contact Mr Molati Nonyane, ACGT Liaison Scientist ( or 012 420 6845).

  • From Genes to Networks: The ACGT plant forum creates a platform for future collaborations

    From Genes to Networks: The ACGT plant forum creates a platform for future collaborations
    1st Jun 2018

    The 15th ACGT Regional Plant Biotechnology Forum took place on the 18th of May at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Professional Development Hub. Gathered, were sixty-seven plant scientists and delegates from the ACGT partnership (Agricultural Research Council, University of Johannesburg, University of Pretoria and the University of the Witwatersrand) as well as delegates from North West University and the University of South Africa. The theme of the forum was “Plant Genomes: From Genes to Networks”.

    The forum kicked off with a welcome address from Mr Thabo Khoza (ACGT) and Prof Chrissie Rey (University of the Witwatersrand). The programme was directed by Dr Farhahna Allie (University of Johannesburg) and Dr Dirk Swanevelderd (Agricultural Research Council ) who chaired the two sessions for the forum. The presentations were as follows: (Not all presentations are available due to work not being published yet):

    1. The keynote speaker: Dr Maria-Cecilia Costa (University of Cape Town) – Resurrection networks: insights into desiccation tolerance from gene co-expression networks

    Dr Costa obtained her MSc in Brazil (her country of birth) then moved to the Netherlands to pursue a PhD in the Laboratory of Plant Physiology at Wageningen University. Her PhD resulted in six publications in publications such as Nature and Plant Physiology. Dr Costa is currently doing her post-doctorate at the University of Cape Town working on the analysis of the genome and transcriptome of Castanospermum austral. Her impressive resume made her a great candidate to be the keynote speaker at the forum. Her insightful address at the forum was on “Resurrection networks: insights into desiccation tolerance from gene co-expression networks”. Her presentation, which showcased how fast plants can move from a desiccated state to flowering after rehydration, kept the audience highly captivated. She also showed how networks change in dehydrated states and hydrated states. Her work shows promise for future collaborations with the delegates that attended the forum.

    Dr Costa was followed by presentations from the University of Pretoria and the University of the Witwatersrand.  These talks covered a variety of ways in which networks can be used in plants such as in the cassava research at the University of the Witwatersrand and the maize studies at the University of Pretoria.

    1. Dr Eshchar Mizrachi (University of Pretoria) – Reverse engineering networks of secondary growth and their evolution in plants
    2. Prof Chrissie Rey (University of the Witwatersrand) – Plant genes and networks: responses to geminivirus
    3. Dr Ansie Yseel (University of Pretoria) – Using a network based approach to interpret molecular profiling data
    4. Ms Katlego Masike (University of Pretoria) – Application of host-induced gene silencing to manage diseases in agriculturally important plants.
    5. Dr Christine Bizabani (University of the Witwatersrand) – Cassava responses to South Africa cassava mosaic virus: an ultimate battle of host and virus encoded microRNA
    6. Prof Dave Berger (University of Pretoria) –Transcriptional network analysis reveals candidate resistance mechanisms to grey leaf spot in maize
    7. Dr Patience Chatukuta (University of the Witwatersrand) – CRISPR and protoplast: Hand-in-hand towards high-throughput gene silencing in cassava
    8. Ms Ethel Mlunjwa (University of Pretoria) – Expression analysis of selected maize primary metabolism genes in response to Cercospora zeina inoculation in the glasshouse.

    The presentations afforded the delegates an opportunity to identify ideal researchers to collaborate with in future.  The ACGT will support and help facilitate any interest groups establishment that arises from the forum. The next forum will be hosted by the University of Johannesburg in September 2018. The ACGT will circulate the invitation once the date and topic has been confirmed.

    The ACGT would like to thank Inqaba Biotec for sponsoring the forum.

    Forum speakers

    Story by: The ACGT team

  • New family of promising, selective silver-based anti-cancer drugs discovered

    4th Apr 2018

    A new family of very promising silver-based anti-cancer drugs has been discovered by researchers in South Africa. The most promising silver thiocyanate phosphine complex among these, called UJ3 for short, has been successfully tested in rats and in human cancer cells in the laboratory.

    In research published in BioMetals, UJ3 is shown to be as effective against human esophageal cancer cells, as a widely-used chemotherapy drug in use today. Esophageal cancer cells are known to become resistant to current forms of chemotherapy.

    “The UJ3 complex is as effective as the industry-standard drug Cisplatin in killing cancer cells in laboratory tests done on human breast cancer and melanoma, a very dangerous form of skin cancer, as well,” says Professor Marianne Cronjé, Head of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Johannesburg.

    “However, UJ3 requires a 10 times lower dose to kill cancer cells. It also focuses more narrowly on cancer cells, so that far fewer healthy cells are killed,” she says.

    Fewer side effects

    Apart from needing a much lower dose than an industry standard, UJ3 is also much less toxic.

    “In rat studies, we see that up to 3 grams of UJ3 can be tolerated per 1 kilogram of bodyweight. This makes UJ3 and other silver phosphine complexes we have tested about as toxic as Vitamin C,” says Professor Reinout Meijboom, Head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Johannesburg.

    See the researchers commenting in this video.

    If UJ3 becomes a chemotherapy drug in future, the lower dose required, lower toxicity and greater focus on cancer cells will mean fewer side effects from cancer treatment.

    Powerhouse pathway to neat cancer cell death

    UJ3 appears to target the mitochondria, resulting in programmed cell death to kill cancer cells – a process called apoptosis. When a cancer cell dies by apoptosis, the result is a neat and tidy process where the dead cell’s remains are “recycled”, not contaminating healthy cells around them, and not inducing inflammation.

    Certain existing chemotherapy drugs are designed to induce apoptosis, rather than “septic” cell death which is called necrosis, for this reason.

    Cancer cells grow much bigger and faster, and make copies of themselves much faster, than healthy cells do. In this way they create cancerous tumors. To do this, they need far more energy than healthy cells do.

    UJ3 targets this need for energy, by shutting down the “powerhouses” of a cancer cell, the mitochondria. The complex then causes the release of the “executioner” protein, an enzyme called caspase-3, which goes to work to dismantle the cell’s command centre and structural supports, cutting it up for recycling in the last stages of apoptosis.

    See microscope images of human esophageal cancer cells treated with the UJ3 complex.

    Unusual compounds

    UJ3 complex and the others in the family are based on silver. This makes the starter materials for synthesizing the complex far more economical than a number of industry-standard chemotherapy drugs based on platinum.

    “These complexes can be synthesized with standard laboratory equipment, which shows good potential for large scale manufacture. The family of silver thiocyanate phosphine compounds is very large. We were very fortunate to test UJ3, with is unusually ‘flat’ chemical structure, early on in our exploration of this chemical family for cancer treatment,” says Prof Meijboom.

    Research on UJ3 and other silver thiocyanate phosphine complexes at the University is ongoing.

    Story by: University of Johannesburg, for Eurekalert

  • Professor Lynn Morris awarded the 2018 TWAS Prize in the Medical Sciences

    Professor Lynn Morris awarded the 2018 TWAS Prize in the Medical Sciences
    8th Mar 2018

    Professor Lynn Morris

    In awarding Professor Lynn Morris with the 2018 TWAS Prize in the Medical Sciences category, the Academy praised her “pioneering studies on the neutralizing antibody response to HIV infection that has provided fundamental insights for HIV vaccine development”.

    The TWAS Prize, announced in December 2017, carries a cash award of US$15 000 and the winners will deliver a lecture about their research at TWAS’s 28th General Meeting in 2018, when they will receive a plaque and the prize money.

    Morris is a Highly Cited Researcher on the Clarivate Analytics list compiled annually that recognises leading researchers in the sciences and social sciences globally.

    Morris holds a joint appointment as Research Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University and Research Associate at the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA). She is the Head of the HIV Virology Laboratory within the Centre for HIV & STIs based at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases at the National Health Laboratory Services.

    In June 2017, Morris received the prestigious Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award for her scholarship and research excellence.

    Story by: The University of the Witwatersrand

  • UP scientist recognised by AU

    UP scientist recognised by AU
    15th Feb 2018

    Prof Robert Millar, Director of the Centre for Neuroendocrinology at the University of Pretoria, has been honoured with a Kwame Nkrumah Award for Scientific Achievement by the African Union in the category of Life and Earth Sciences at the Continental level. This is the highest level of the awards programme, which also recognises young scientists at a national level and women scientists at a regional level.

    The prize carries a grant of US$100 000.

    “I am deeply honoured by the African Union’s award which recognises the importance of our ongoing scientific research to improve lives all over the continent and in the training of young African scientists. The gathering of the heads of all African states was immensely impressive and underlines the potential to harness Africa’s science talent and make the continent a global player in research and I pledge my commitment to this endeavour. My group will continue to look for new and more effective treatments for diseases which lead to considerable suffering and pain,” said Prof Millar.

    Prof Millar’s research is in the field of neuroendocrinology, where he has specialised in peptide regulators of reproductive hormones. He pioneered the discovery of the Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) prohormone, novel GnRH structures, and the first cloning of the GnRH I and GnRH II receptors. He has participated in and led a number of programmes developing GnRH analogues for use in a wide range of clinical pathologies.

    His research has contributed to the development of the primary treatment for prostate cancer, the sole treatment for precocious puberty and treatments for hormone-dependent diseases in women such as endometriosis, as well as in vitro fertilisation.

    He was the recipient of a National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Lifetime Achiever Award during 2013 to an individual for his outstanding contribution to Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation (SETI) during his lifetime. In 2017 he received the Platinum Medal of the Medical Research Council and the Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship and Gold Medal. Prof Millar is a Fellow of the Royal Society (Edinburgh), a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and a Fellow of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). He has published 450 articles in internationally peer-reviewed journals (cited over 20 000 times) and has an H-index of over 70. Prof Millar is also an NRF A-rated scientist.


    Prof Robert Millar
    Prof Robert Millar


    Story by: Department of University Relations, University of Pretoria