/ 2 September 2011

Mainstays of research

Each year the NRF awards excellence in three special categories.

The NRF Lifetime Achievement Award recognises someone who is considered to have made an extraordinary contribution to the development of science in and for South Africa. The individual’s work must be of international standard and impact.

The Transformation of the Science Cohort Award, recognises an individual who has played an outstanding role in addressing the challenges of getting more women and black scientists to advance world-class research performance.

The Champion of Research Capacity Development at SA Higher Education Institutions award was introduced in 2009. This category recognises individuals within the research community who contribute to the transformation of South Africa’s community and landscape.

Professor Malegapuru Makgoba

University of KwaZulu Natal

Born in Sekhukhuneland (in the current Limpopo Province) in 1952, Professor Makgoba obtained his MBChB from the former University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)) in 1976 with merit in Medicine, and a D Phil in Human Immunogenetics from the University of Oxford in 1983. A fellow of the Royal Physicians of London and a Foreign Associate Member of the US National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, Prof Makgoba is an internationally-recognised molecular immunologist. He has made ground-breaking contributions to scientific knowledge in his field and was the first black South African to be selected to the prestigious National Institute of Health’s Fogarty Visiting Programme in the late 1980s. He and Drs Martin Sanders, Stephen Shaw and others at the National Cancer Institute, “were among the first to appreciate the importance of lymphocyte adhesion” and their pioneering discoveries profoundly influenced the disciplines of immunology and cell biology.

Prof Makgoba was instrumental in demonstrating the importance of adhesion molecules in T-cell function through a series of what are now regarded as classic publications. These discoveries resulted in the expansion of knowledge of leukocyte adhesion, immunologic memory, direct intercellular interactions, and direct intercellular signalling in health and many disease states, laying the groundwork for research into HIV/Aids and tuberculosis (TB). This work, considered to be his most significant scientific contribution to molecular immunology, continues to inform basic research, diagnosis and treatment and is still highly cited. The total number of ISI citations for his 10 classic publications stands at 4 052.

At the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, University of London, he led the team that first demonstrated circulating isoforms of the adhesion molecule ICAM-1, which has become the basis for the development of immunoassays for monitoring inflammatory responses during disease activity and treatment. This research and his earlier studies of adhesion molecules in T-cell recognition have added significantly to the understanding of human immune responses and the pathophysiology of many diseases. His work has led to the development of three important drugs for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.

In 1987 the late Sir Raymond Hoffenberg, former president of Wolfson College, Oxford, and the Royal Society of Physicians, described Prof Makgoba’s research as “unquestionably out- standing” and the professor himself as “one of the best of the younger investigators in the UK”. He served for eight years at the Medical Research Council (MRC) of South Africa, originally as its first black board chairperson and later as its first black president. During his time at the MRC, he played a crucial role in the development of a HIV/Aids strategy for the country and headed up the South African Aids Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI). He was appointed chairman of the scientific advisory committee of SAAVI from 1999 to 2002 and was a signatory of the Durban Declaration on HIV and Aids. During this time he was an outspoken critic of Aids denialists.

Prof Makgoba joined the UKZN as vice-chancellor in 2002, growing the institution into one of the top five research universities in the country. He was also responsible for the establishment of the university’s Aids research programmes, one of the largest groups under one institution in the world. His work has enabled UKZN to attract large amounts of funding for HIV/Aids and TB research from organisations such as the Wellcome Trust, the National Institute of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. His many awards in recognition of his work include the UK’s National Health Service Distinction Meritorious in 1991, the Gold Award for Outstanding Leadership in Medical Research in 2001, the Science-for-Society Gold Medal 2003, the VC Golden Award in 2004 and the Golden Jubilee Award of the Colleges of Medicine SA.

He was recognised by the World Medical Association as “one of 65 of the Most Caring Physicians of the World” in 2006 and by the Imperial College Faculty of Medicine for out- standing contributions to “medical research, international public health and university administration” in 2007. He has served on a number of international and local advisory panels including the UNAIDS/WHO vaccine advisory committee, the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Global Vaccine Enterprise.

He is a prolific publisher of papers, many of which are considered classic publications, and has authored and co-edited a number of books on topics of science and human relations. One of his papers, published in The Lancet, was selected for permanent display by the British National Science Museum to “popularise science in the 21st century” and another — cited over 1 000 times — has been recognised as one of 17 core scientific papers that formed the precursor for modern structural biology.

NRF Transformation of the Science Cohort Award

Professor Bongani Mayosi

University Cape Town, Stellenbosch

Professor Bongani Mayosi has made medical research his home for the past 25 years. He obtained his BMedSci. and MBChB degrees with distinction from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and in 2003 obtained a DPhil degree from Oxford. His research has covered a wide range of areas in cardiac medicine, including genetics, the treatment of tuberculous pericarditis, rheumatic fever prevention and the epidemiology of heart failure in Africa. He has also made considerable contributions in the area of mentoring, the establishment of research capacity-building programmes and the development of healthcare policy. Prof Mayosi has identified and mentored a number of talented South Africans, including research clinicians and medical scientists, and his students have gone on to distinguish themselves in their fields. For example, Dr Bruce Spottiswoode, a medical scientist and engineer, was named as one of the Top 200 Young South Africans to Take to Lunch in 2011 by the Mail & Guardian, while Dr Vuyisile Nkomo, now a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in the United States, has become recognised as a global leader in the epidemiology and prevention of valvular heart disease.

In addition to teaching, he has assisted and encouraged many of his students to obtain funding for further studies and to apply for and receive scholarships. He has established a number of important programmes designed to ensure transformation in the science cohort of South Africa. These include funding schemes for the Helen and Morris Mauerberger Clinical Scholarship, the Hamilton Naki Clinical Scholarship, the Life Healthcare Fellowship in Cardiology and the Renal Care Fellowship. He also initiated the UCT Clinical Scholars Programme, which has led to the introduction of the intercalated MBChB/BSc Med Hons, MBChB/PhD and MPH in clinical research degrees in the faculty of health sciences. The UCT Department of Medicine is one of the major movers in the development of a faculty-wide centre for clinical research innovation and translation, which will be set up in the near future. These programmes have already resulted in the transformation of the academic productivity of the department, as exemplified by the rising publication count from 100 in 2005 to 250 in 2009.

Prof Mayosi has also led the development of policy interventions for the transformation of health research in South Africa. For example, as chairman of the Postgraduate Education and Training (Medical) Subcommittee at the Health Professions Council of South Africa, he facilitated the introduction of the requirement for all specialists in the country to complete a research dissertation before registering as specialists. He also played a leading role in the Academy of Science for South Africa’s expert consensus panel on clinical research and related training, which compiled the influential report that identifies the barriers that hinder clinical research and has provided solutions for progress. Furthermore, he was appointed as chairman of the National Health Research Committee (NHRC) by the minister of health in February 2011 to assist with priority setting, and identification of appropriate funding mechanisms, policy, and coordination of health research in South Africa. The NHRC is well placed to guide the transformation of the science cohort and system of health research innovation in the country.

Prof Mayosi is Professor of Medicine and Chief Physician at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital. He is also the Population Health Research Institute international scholar at McMaster University in Canada, an Honorary Professor at the Tropical Medicine Research Institute at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and an Extraordinary Professor of Medicine at the University of the Free State. His memberships include the American College of Cardiology, the Pan Africa Society of Cardiology, the Royal College of Physicians of London and the European Society of Cardiology. He was awarded the Order of Mapungubwe in silver by President Jacob Zuma in November 2009 for his excellent contributions to medical science.

NRF Champion of Research Capacity Development at South African Higher Education Institutions Award

Professor Yusef Waghid

University of Stellenbosch

Professor Yusef Waghid is a Professor of Philosophy of Education and Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Stellenbosch (SU). For the past 15 years, he has focused on communitarian political theory and its relevance to understanding education for democratic citizenship. He obtained his Master’s Degree and DEd at the University of the Western Cape and completed his DPhil and PhD degrees at SU. Prof Waghid is a consummate scholar whose passion for teaching has successfully supported 31 students to complete their Master’s and Doctoral Studies by having established opportunities to present papers at conferences, and by offering students bursaries from his research fund.

He has furthermore co-authored and published articles with a number of students. Of the 12 students he currently supervises, 11 PhD candidates are from disadvantaged communities and working within the ambit of his democratic citizenship education research focus. His deliberate engagement with students of designated groups can most appropriately be illustrated in his 2006 paper Reclaiming Freedom and Friendship Through Postgraduate Students Supervision, published in Teaching in Higher Education.

His objective has been to defend both the notion of deliberative democratic theory in education — particularly arguing for the centrality of practical reasoning in education — and to show how ‘compassionate imagining’, friendship and deliberative (communitarian) democratic theory complement one another in addressing issues of inclusion and/ or exclusion in education with the possibility that students take risks when they engage in deliberation with peers and supervisors. Recognition by his peers, as well as his agenda of education for democratic citizenship, has garnered him a reputation of considerable international standing. He is committed to capacity enhancement through networking and seminars with international scholars from institutions such as Sydney University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Stanford University and the Katolieke Universiteit Leuven.

Prof Waghid has presented more than 120 papers at conferences, done 25 workshop presentations and published seven books. He has received a number of awards over his career, including The Rectors Award for Excellent Research at SU and the EASA Medal of Honour for Contributions to Higher Education. He has been a visiting professor at Hamburg University, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and the University of Salzburg. He was a member of the NRF Education Advisory Committee from 2007 to 2011, chaired the HEQC Panel for the National Teacher Education Review at the University of Pretoria and was a member of the MEd accreditation committee from 1999 to 2001. He is a member of ASSAf and executive member of the International Network of Philosophers of Education.

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as an advertorial supplement