Women in Science: DST Fellowships

Gladwell Nganga obtained a BSc (Civil and Construction Engineering) at the University of Nairobi in 2009. (Supplied)

Gladwell Nganga obtained a BSc (Civil and Construction Engineering) at the University of Nairobi in 2009. (Supplied)

 


Doctoral Studies

Joyce Mwangama
Mwangama is currently working towards her PhD degree in Electrical Engineering in the communications research group at the same institution.

Her research is on the evolution of mobile broadband networks, including next-generation mobile networks and future internet architectures and technologies. Mwangama has published papers in local and international peer-reviewed conference proceedings.

She also works for the Electrical Engineering Department at UCT as a research and teaching assistant. She has run the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) student branch at UCT and currently oversees all IEEE student activities in South Africa.

Mwangama is also the preuniversity activities coordinator for the Africa region, involved in initiatives to promote engineering and sciences to high school learners.

Recently, Mwangama was named as a Google Anita Borg Scholar, which is awarded based on the strength of candidates' academic performance, leadership experience and demonstrated passion for computer science.

Gladwell Nganga
Gladwell Nganga obtained a BSc (Civil and Construction Engineering) at the University of Nairobi in 2009 and in 2012 an MSc (Engineering) in Civil Engineering from the University of Cape Town, where she recently commenced a PhD programme.
Her interest lies in the field of construction materials, mainly concrete.

Her doctoral research is on cement, a main component in concrete. She will evaluate the properties and changes that have taken place in this product in a local and international context and explore how the clinker content can be reduced to produce mor e sus t a i n - able concrete. She attended a conference in Hong Kong in September 2011 to present a paper on her Master's research.

Manoko Seepe
Prudy Manoko Mashika Seepe is a PhD student in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health in the Traditional Medicine Laboratory at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

She received her Master's degree in medical biochemistry at the Centre of Excellence for Brain and Tuberculosis Research at the University of Stellenbosch. Her research interest is in African traditional medicine and its possible efficacy against KwaZulu-Natal tuberculosis strains through good and strong relations built with local herbalists known to have expertise in treating or managing tuberculosis using herbs.

She believes it would be useful to use science to evaluate traditional medicines that may be of benefit in the fight against the disease. Seepe has presented a paper in her area of work at the 3rd South African Tuberculosis Conference, and received an award for her presentation at the Medical Research Council research day. She participated in the fourth Indigenous Knowledge Systems Expo, where she was involved in teaching learners the importance of science in indigenous knowledge research.

Bongiwe Ndlovu
Bongiwe Goodness Ndlovu received her Master of Medical Science (MMedSc) degree in pediatrics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in 2012.

Ndlovu is currently enrolled for a PhD in medical virology at the Doris Duke Medical Research Institute, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, UKZN. She is a developmental lecturer in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences at the university.

Ndlovu's research is on stopping HIV's spread among South African adults and mother-infant pairs, using both innate and adaptive immune mechanisms. Currently, she is focusing on the evolution of humoral immune responses in acute and early HIV-1 subtype C infections.

Her aim is to determine the timing of emergence, patterns of breadth and specificity and to characterise the evolution of anti- HIV binding antibody subclasses, from the time of infection to three years post-infection. This information is required to develop novel strategies for HIV vaccine development that exploit mechanisms of broadly neutralising antibodies. As a master's student, she found that the HLA-Cw*04:01 allele was associated with susceptibility to mother-to-child acquisition of HIV infection.

In 2010, she was awarded the TATA Africa Scholarship and a Columbia University-South African Forgarty Scholarship for training in HIV/Aids research. She recently published an article in a peer-reviewed journal.

Kim Potgieter
Kim Potgieter completed a BSc degree cum laude in 2008, an honours degree cum laude in 2009 and a Master's degree cum laude in 2010.

Potgieter is currently a thirdyear PhD chemistry student in the faculty of science at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), specialising in inorganic chemistry.

Potgieter's research project entails the synthesis of a wide variety of 1,3-benzothiazole derivatives, with functional groups that will make them susceptible to coordination by rhenium. The formulation of novel rhenium complexes with benzothiazole derivatives could potentially have therapeutic applications as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, as well as for tumour radiotherapy.

She was awarded the South African Chemical Institute's James Moir Medal Award for being the top BSc chemistry honours student in 2008 and the S2A3 Medal, for the most outstanding Master's dissertation (2010) in scientific disciplines, as well as the 2011 Nelson Mandela Young Achievers Award in the academic category recognition of achievements by young people in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.

Potgieter has published twelve articles in various international peer-reviewed journals and has presented her work in the form of poster and oral presentations at local and international conferences.

Toni-Lee Sterley
Toni-Lee Sterley completed a BSc in Mathematics and Physiology, followed by a BSc (Med) honours degree in Physiology, specialising in Neuroscience, at the University of Cape Town.

She began her Master's in neuroscience in 2010 under the supervision of Prof. Vivienne Russell and co-supervised by Dr Fleur Howells, and upgraded her project to a PhD at the beginning of 2011.

Sterley's current research is on the neurobiology of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression/ anxiety disorder. She is specifically focusing on how norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that is implicated in these disorders, is regulated by the major excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain (glutamate and GABA, respectively), and whether this regulation is different in the case of ADHD and depression/anxiety disorder.

She is also investigating how early life trauma interacts with the inherited neurochemistry and/or behavioural profile of ADHD and depression/anxiety disorder.

She has presented her research at a number of local and international conferences, published two papers, and has received a number of awards in her academic career.


Master's Studies

Matsopiane Maserumule
Matsopiane Charlotte Maserumule is currently in her second year of MSc (Medicine) study at the University of Cape Town, conducting her research in the CSIR Biosciences section.

Her research interests are molecular biology, nanotechnology and biophotonics and their applications in health. Her MSc is based on developing aptamers (loosely defined as "synthetic/chemical antibodies") that detect tuberculosis antigens into more specific and affordable tuberculosis detection probes for the potential development of a point-of care tuberculosis diagnostic tool.

Maserumule was awarded the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) Collaborative Grants Programme, a student-support grant award for her Master's study proposal.

Part of her Master's work has earned her a listing as an inventor in a provisional patent. In addition, there is at least one manuscript under preparation for publication from this work, with one co-authored manuscript already submitted.

Upon completing her Master's, Maserumule plans to undertake a PhD and subsequently establish a career that will integrate science and technology with industry to produce tangible solutions with real life-improving benefits and socioeconomic impact.

Lombe Mutale
Lombe Mutale completed her BSc in civil engineering in 2011 at the University of Cape Town.

She is currently starting a career in research and studying for an MSc in civil engineering at the same institution. She graduated with honours, was on the Dean's Merit list and was the recipient of the 2011 Steel Design prize, awarded by the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction for the best structural steel design submitted by an undergraduate student.

She is a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society, exclusive to the top 15% of students at a university.

Mutale 's undergraduate thesis was on the exploitation of symmetry in structural analysis. She works with the world renowned Concrete Materials and Structural Integrity Research Unit.

Her current research on chloride ingress resistance and performance- based design methods for concrete structures is expected to contribute to more durable and sustainable infrastructure.

Sindisiwe Nondaba
Sindisiwe Nondaba is a first year MSc student at the University of Pretoria, under the supervision of Professor Debra Meyer.

Her field of study is biotechnology with specialisation in biochemistry. She is conducting research in the area of HIV/Aids, mainly on HIV-1 subtype C because it is the dominant subtype in South Africa and accounts for most of the global HIV-1 epidemic. Her project entails investigating host and virus-derived synthetic peptides to ascertain their potential as therapeutic tools.

The HIV research group has a unique approach to HIV/Aids research and education; involving multidisciplinary collaborations and the use of a combination of biochemistry, analytical chemistry and physics to get more reproducible data.

Preliminary data produced by Nondaba suggests an association between disease progression and the presence of antibodies elicited to the aforementioned synthetic peptides, early in infection. Her work has also shown that the peptides are not toxic to cells.

Although it is still early, Nondaba has already made progress towards achieving the objectives of her study. It is possible that data from this project may necessitate that we consider re-evaluating and expanding current HIV diagnostic and prognostic technology in favour of methodologies that provide more information on disease status.

Following completion of an MSc, Nondaba wishes to pursue a doctorate in biotechnology and aspires to be one of the top female scientists in this country.

Akhona Vava
Akhona Vava is currently studying towards an MSc in Medicine, specialising in medical biochemistry.

She holds a BSc degree in Biochemistry and a BSc (Med) Honours degree from the University of Cape Town, the latter completed with an average of 72%.

Her current research investigates the role of DCUN1D1 protein in the development and progression of prostate and oesophageal cancer, in the pursuit of identifying novel targets for anti-cancer drugs that can be used in cancer treatment.

The study ties in with her research interests as it involves the study of cancers that are highly prevalent in South Africa; oesophageal cancer is one of the leading cancers in South African and prostate cancer is the most prevalent cancer in South African men.

She was placed on the Dean's Merit list in 2009 and 2010 and was recently invited to be part of the Golden Key International Honour Society, which comprises the top 15% of academic achievers at universities.

Sumaiyya Thawer
Sumaiyya Thawer graduated from the University of Cape Town with a BSc degree in 2010 with distinctions in microbiology, genetics and physiology.

She was top student in microbial biotechnology in her graduating class and completed a BSc(Med) Honours degree with distinction in infectious diseases and immunology in 2011.

She is currently pursuing a Master's degree at UCT in immunology under the mentorship and supervision of Dr William Horsnell and Prof. Frank Brombacher. Her research is focused on characterising the role of innate immune cells, specifically macrophages, in recall immunity to helminth (worm) infections.

Parasitic helminth infections are one of the neglected tropical diseases that serve as a major global health problem. Detailed understanding of host immunity to helminthes is therefore likely to be critical to future vaccine design.

Narjis Thawer
Narjis Thawer is a young African scientist, training in medical research to tackle the huge burden of infectious diseases in Africa.

She obtained her BSc degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and graduated with distinctions in genetics, physiology and microbiology in 2010.

She was the best student in her molecular microbial genetics course and in 2011 completed a BSc (Med) Honours degree in Immunology and Infectious Disease at UCT Medical School.

She is currently pursuing an MSc in the Department of Medical Virology in the Health Science Faculty at UCT. She focuses on HIV and tuberculosis, and in particular people who are infected with both diseases. South Africa is particularly hard hit: it has both one of the highest numbers of HIV-infected people in the world and one of the highest tuberculosis infection rates.

Women are especially burdened with these diseases, and women in rural areas are often affected the most, owing to poverty and lack of access to health services.

Thawer's research project investigates how HIV affects the immune response to the tuberculosis bacterium to determine why HIV-infected people are more susceptible to tuberculosis, with the ultimate goal of helping to develop better vaccines and drugs to treat tuberculosis.

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