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Winners 2013

Silver Medal Winners

Dr Tanya Doherty (MRC)

Dr Tanya DohertyDr Doherty is a Senior Specialist Scientist in the Health Systems Research Unit at the MRC. Despite being a young researcher she has a well-established research focus and identity in the field of child health and HIV. Her research has made important contributions to the evidence around operational effectiveness of PMTCT and infant feeding policies and she has been at the forefront of open debate and policy discussions in leading high impact journals. Her research has been used in the GRADE process to inform changes to WHO guidelines on HIV and infant feeding, and influenced South African National Department of Health guidelines. She is also the only scientist in the MRC Health Systems Research Unit with NRF rating.

Since completing her PhD in 2006 Dr Doherty has rapidly built up a strong publication record with over 40 peer reviewed papers. The citation record of her work illustrates the importance of her research on child health and HIV which is a priority area for research locally and internationally.

Her leadership in the field of child health is also clearly evidenced by the invitations she receives to speak at local and international conferences. She was an invited keynote speaker at a national ministerial consultation on breastfeeding in 2011, and has been the invited author for the chapter on PMTCT for the District Health Barometer publication of the Health System’s Trust annually since 2006. She is currently leading further work for UNICEF reviewing child survival intervention programmes in 6 other African countries.

 

Prof Naeemah Abrahams (MRC)

Professor Naeemah AbrahamsProf. Abrahams is a Senior Specialist Scientist in the Gender and Health Research Unit, which has been acknowledged as world leaders on gender-based violence and health research.

When Prof. Abrahams started gender-related research 18 years ago, gender was trivialised in the health field. However, by working with colleagues such as Prof. Rachel Jewkes, they ensured that their use of rigorous research methods and publications in leading journals, such as Science and the Lancet, and publishing in the World Health Organisation Report, contributed to the change that we see today.

In recognition of her research, she has received two honorary appointments: an Honorary Associated Professor with the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Health Sciences in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, as well as Extraordinary Professor with the University of the Western Cape, Faculty of Community Health Sciences in the School of Public Health.

Over the past 20 years, Prof. Abrahams has made significant contributions to and provided leadership on gender-based violence research. Her PhD research measured male perpetration of violence against intimate partners. At the time, this was one of the first studies globally to focus on men. Naeemah has also made unique contributions to the research on intimate femicide in South Africa and globally, developing a method that has been hailed internationally. Naeemah’s contributions now mean that her research expertise in femicide, sexual violence and sexual assault is now recognised globally.

 

Prof Graeme Meintjes

Professor Graeme MeintjesProf. Meintjes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine and a member of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) at UCT. He is an adult infectious diseases physician who completed his specialisation in internal medicine and infectious diseases at UCT and jointly established a busy infectious diseases referral unit at GF Jooste Hospital in Manenberg in 2004.

Prof. Meintjes is an exceptional mid-career researcher and the findings of his research have played a seminal role in defining clinical approaches and broadening understanding of a condition that has recently emerged (TB-IRIS), and improving treatment strategies for crytococcal meningitis. His work has also informed evolving treatment guidelines for ART in South Africa and internationally.

For example, Prof. Meintjes was the lead investigator of a pioneering randomised placebo-controlled trial of prednisone for the treatment of TB-IRIS. This was the first, and to date, the only clinical trial to test a treatment strategy for IRIS. The trial findings provide the evidence-base for treating TB-IRIS globally, and have impacted national and international guidelines including the NIH-CDCHIVMA/IDSA Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Opportunistic Infections in Adults and Adolescents.

In collaboration with the International Network for the Study of HIV-associated IRIS, Prof. Meintjes developed international consensus case definitions for TB-IRIS. These case definitions have played a major role in standardising research approaches to this condition, and have also assisted clinicians in the field in making diagnoses of TB-IRIS.

 

Prof Kelly Chibale

Professor Kelly ChibaleProf. Chibale currently holds the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Drug Discovery. Over the past five years, Prof. Chibale has made seminal contributions that have impacted on health, especially in developing countries. Most significantly, he led a project team that discovered the first clinical candidate, for any disease, researched on African soil by an African drug discovery centre. This team discovered a clinical candidate molecule with the potential to be used as part of a single-dose cure for malaria. The discovery of this malaria drug candidate was mentioned in the State of the Nation Address given by President Jacob Zuma earlier this year. The discovery, and Professor Chibale were featured this year in Nature Medicine under the headline ‘Made in Africa’, and received the 2012 Medicines for Malaria Venture Project of the Year award.

Over the past 10 years, Prof. Chibale has been acknowledged for his outstanding contributions to science, technology and innovation, specifically being recognised for establishing Africa’s first integrated modern drug discovery centre – the H3-D Centre at UCT – and for establishing various modern technology platforms for the discovery of potential medicines. In this context, the pharmaceutical company Novartis has signed a collaboration agreement with UCT for H3-D to work with the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research. This will go a long way to bridging the gap between basic science and clinical research, with the aim of advancing innovative medicines that treat African patients.

 

Gold Medal Winners

Prof Andre Kengne (MRC)

Prof Andre KengneProf Kengne is Director: Non-Communicable Diseases Research Unit at the MRC. Prof Kengne is an established researcher on chronic diseases with a major focus on cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. His leading role on these conditions in Africa is well-recognised and his expertise at the global level is increasingly acknowledged.

Internationally, Prof Kengne has made a significant contribution to improving the understanding, quantification and reduction of cardiovascular diseases risk in people with diabetes. For example, he has contributed to the development of a new and improved model for estimating cardiovascular disease risk in contemporary populations with diabetes. This model, which was the highlight of the World Diabetes Congress in 2011, has been made available as a handheld or online calculator, and is being promoted in several countries around the world.

Over the past two years, Prof Kengne has co-led a programme of research that has provided unparalleled evidence on the increasing burden of cardiometabolic disease among mixed ancestry South Africans. The results of this work are increasing awareness on the need to improve prevention of cardiometabolic diseases in this population. Some of this work is being used as the background of the African chapter in the forthcoming edition of the World Diabetes Atlas by the International Diabetes Federation.

Prof Kengne has co-authored over 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers, several conference abstracts and book chapters. He currently chairs the taskforce on Nutrition of the Pan-African Society of Cardiology and is member of many scientific bodies and committees.

 

Prof Keertan Dheda

Prof Keertan Dheda Prof. Dheda is a professor of respiratory medicine, and Head of Division of Pulmonology, Department of Medicine at UCT and at Groote Schuur Hospital. During his research career, Prof. Dheda has made substantial contributions to the management and control of drug-resistant TB in South Africa.

He has been internationally recognised for this by being awarded the 2010 International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Scientific Award.

XDR-TB threatens to destabilise TB control in South Africa and several other regions of the world. However, there is hardly any data on which to base policy recommendations. The work that Prof. Dheda has published in the Lancet, together which other research results have shaped clinical definitions for treatment failure in XDR-TB, provided specific guidelines on how XDR-TB patients should be managed, and provided valuable data that informs and guides management decisions by the national TB programmes from resource-limited settings.

His work that demonstrated an increased risk for health-care workers developing drug-resistant TB makes it imperative that governments now take immediate measures to provide the resources required to enable all hospitals and clinics to implement the recommended WHO infection control procedures, which will go a long way to protect health-care workers and their patients from acquiring MDR/XDR-TG. Prof. Dheda’s report also heightens the urgency for all health facilities and laboratories to be equipped with the newer diagnostic testing platforms, so that all patients and health-care workers can be rapidly identified and appropriately isolated to minimise the risk of transmission within hospitals and the community.

He led a team, which published their findings in The Lancet showing that placing new rapid TB diagnostic technology (Gene Xpert) in a clinic was feasible when testing is performed by a nurse and this approach led to rapid diagnosis of drug-resistant TB and more patients being placed on treatment. The findings suggest that a health care worker-led diagnostic strategy could be useful to fight the disease in TB hotspots in the country.

 

Platinum Medal Winners

Prof Shabir Madhi (MRC)

Prof Shabir MadhiProf. Madhi is Director: National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Director: MRC’s Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit, Professor of Vaccinology: Wits, and holds a DST/NRF Chair: Vaccine Preventable Diseases. Prof. Madhi is an internationally recognised clinical-scientist in his field of vaccinology and respiratory and meningeal pathogens.

Prof. Madhi’s involvement in pneumococcal conjugate vaccines and on rotavirus vaccine studies has contributed to the WHO advocating the importance of these vaccines in improving child health and recommending their routine use in developing countries, including in settings with a high prevalence of HIV infection. This research also contributed to advocacy that led the South African government to be the first in Africa to introduce these vaccines into the public immunisation programme since 2009, an initiative which is expected to save the lives of approximately 6000-7000 South African children annually, particularly in communities with limited access to curative health-care facilities.

His work has been particularly relevant to sub-Saharan African countries with their high burden of HIV-infection, where he has established himself as a leader in research on the effect of childhood HIV on the epidemiology of pneumonia and the safety, immunogenicity and efficacy of vaccines for this vulnerable population. Prof. Madhi has made and continues to make a huge contribution to improving child health not only in South Africa but throughout Africa and in developing countries.

Prof. Madhi’s international standing is such that he was listed among the ‘100 World Class South Africans’ in the City Press in April of this year, a list that has included luminaries such as past presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

 

Prof Eric Bateman

Prof Eric BatemanEmeritus Professor Bateman is Director: UCT Lung Institute, and honorary consultant at the Division of Pulmonology at UCT. He has an outstanding record as a clinician scientist in South Africa in the field of pulmonology and related topics. He is highly regarded internationally and is in great demand as a speaker, collaborator and consultant in working groups. Prof. Bateman is an international leader in research areas of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in developing countries, and in research and implementing methods for improving primary health care for chronic and infectious diseases in resource-poor settings.

Prof. Bateman showed his remarkable leadership qualities in raising funds for and building the UCT Lung Institute on the Faculty of Health Sciences Campus, and has run it for the last 13 years funded entirely from research. Even more remarkable has been its growth and research output under his directorship and research leadership. The motivation behind his development of the Lung Institute was to engage in population-wide interventions to improve respiratory care in South Africa. Over the past 13 years, what began as an intervention for assisting frontline clinicians in the integrated care of chronic respiratory diseases has developed into Primary Care 101. Developed over the past three years, this has now been accepted by the Minister of Health as the centre piece of his rejuvenation project for primary care clinics and is being rolled out country-wide.

Prof. Bateman’s full research record confirms Professor Bateman’s status as a clinician-researcher whose lifetime contribution to medical research both nationally and globally has been remarkable in its breadth and depth.

 

Lifetime Achievement

Prof Paul van Helden

Prof Paul van Helden Prof Paul van Helden obtained his doctorate in Biochemistry in 1978 and has been at Stellenbosch University since 1979 where he is presently professor and head of the division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics and also Director of the MRC Centre for Molecular and Cellular Biology, as well as Director of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research.

He has been awarded the Vice-Chancellors’ award for Excellence in Research (Univ. Stellenbosch 2000); the Gold Medal Award, South African Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 2001; the MRC Silver Medal for Research in 2004; the NSTF Award for Outstanding Contribution to Science and Technology in the RSA over 5 years in 2005; and the Gold Medal of ASSAF in 2009.

He has published over 300 research publications and has extensive global networks. He was recently listed as having the 4th highest impact in TB research publishing by ThomsonReuters.

Prof van Helden describes his efforts as attempting to develop a continuum of activities to span the divide between basic research and clinical practice. Molecular TB research at CMCB and Stellenbosch University was initiated by Prof van Helden in 1989, with one PhD student. His main research interest is tuberculosis ranging from diagnostics, through immunology and genetics, to clinical trials and veterinary TB. This interest has grown and is now a major focus area of the division and faculty and sole focus of the CMCB.

Apart from generating a large sample bank which some have described as an “international heritage site”, he has achieved many firsts, such as the description of reinfection and mixed infection as a real and considerable phenomenon in TB.

HIs work showed that one can use modern molecular biology in a developing country to good effect, particularly for diagnosis of drug resistant TB, and his team paved the way for the introduction of such technologies, now being used in state diagnostic labs.

He also led the team to develop useable technologies for speciation of the M. tuberculosis complex and other members of the genus Mycobacterium, which were used in a huge prevalence survey in the RSA and Zambia recently.

His work has placed Stellenbosch University at position 20 in the top 20 research institutions globally in TB research. He has been ranked 4th globally in terms of total impact for TB research, Prof van Helden has built up a world-class research centre focussing on tuberculosis. This has been achieved by allowing each member of the team guidance but freedom to achieve in their own niche.

Many of the people in the CMCB are now globally renowned in their own right. Over the last few years he has moved his name from last authorship to allow for building the CV’s of group leaders who then become the senior author. This is essential to build capacity and allow succession. There is no doubt that Paul van Helden has put South African research on the TB world map.

 

President's Awards

Prof Malegapuru William Makgoba

Prof Malegapuru William MakgobaProf Makgoba has made an outstanding and lasting contribution to South African medical science, holding up and enhancing the reputation of science in this country and in the international community, and encouraging and supporting young scientists. He continues this service now as Vice-President for Planning and Review of the Paris-based International Council for Science.

Prof Makgoba’s contributions to medical science are vast and numerous. He served as President of the MRC during the difficult years of AIDS denialism in South Africa.

Under Prof Makgoba’s guidance, the MRC became a considerable larger and more efficient institution, ensuring the relevance for South Africa of many of the research programmes supported and fostered by the MRC. He has insisted on the highest ethical standards in the conduct of medical research and has had a major influence in the transformation of the South African science landscape. The South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative was an original and model example for public-private partnerships to conduct important basic and applied research.

Prof Makgoba has at times stood for scientific integrity against considerable interference when, for example, he stood up against the pressures applied to him for calling an end to the unscientific and damaging ideas about the non-infectious causes of HIV/AIDS. Had he not done so, South Africa would have been ridiculed by the international scientific community. It is his clarity and forthrightness in dealing with these and other issues that have done much to guard the reputation of South African science and medicine.