IDM Postgraduate Students research showcased in publication competition

28 May 2023
IDM Postgraduate Students research showcased in publication competition
28 May 2023

IDM Postgraduate Students research showcased in publication competition

28 MAY 2023 | STORY NOBHONGO GXOLO. Read time 4 min.

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) hosted its annual Postgraduate Student Publication Competition in December 2022. This well-established training hub, with members of the institute recognised across the globe as subject matter experts who conduct impactful research, holds the competition to encourage postgraduate students to timeously publish their work.

The competition awards cash prizes for top original research and review articles or book chapters written by postgraduate students based at the IDM, a cross-faculty, multidisciplinary postgraduate research institute. Held on the 13th of December, the competition was adjudicated by the Chair of the International Scientific Advisory Committee (ISAC) Emeritus Professor Siamon Gordon, and founding director of the IDM, Emeritus Professor Wieland Gevers. Addressing those in attendance Gevers said certain criteria must be applied to begin the discussion between the judges about the work: “We look at the concept behind the question being asked and how important that question is. [Also] whether the question is being addressed in an appropriate manner. The second [consideration] is whether the methods are up to scratch. Whether the methods enable a team of scientists to put together a conclusion. To say, this is what they found out and this is what it means.”

The 2022 IDM Postgraduate Student Publication competition winners

Original Research
Lorna Gcanga, Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Immunology, Department of Pathology won joint 1st place for her paper that was  the outcome of a

Lorna Gcanga

study focussing on targeting non-coding RNAs as host-directed therapeutics for TB. This study identified novel functions of two long non-coding RNAs in cytokine stimulated and M. tb infected macrophages that play important roles on host immune evasion for M. tb.
“The acknowledgement of this paper is so much sweeter because getting it published was such a mission, because non-coding RNAs is a new research field for immunologists and sometimes it felt like only a few understood what we were doing. Receiving this recognition means it was all worth it,” said Gcanga.

Ryan Dinkele is a PhD candidate based at the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit, Department of Pathology shares 1st place for his paper which

Ryan Dinkele

investigated if breathing contributed to the release of M.tb  into the air. An unexpected finding was that most bacteria produced by TB

patients are likely released during normal breathing. This suggests that coughing may not be the primary driver of TB transmission.
“It is a great honour to be recognised for this award in an institute that produces such high-quality research,” said Dinkele.


Linda Boloko is a PhD candidate based at the Department of Medicine and at the Wellcome Centre for Infectious Disease and Research in Africa, won joint 2nd place for his paper which tested the widely available GeneXpert Ultra ability to detect M.tb in the blood of people living with HIV. Because some people can’t produce sputum, which is the usual medium to diagnose tuberculosis and blood is readily available, this method fills a gap.
“This reaffirms and strengthens the importance of our research. It’s an acknowledgement of strong supervision and mentorship to emerging researchers,” said Boloko.

Nathan Kieswetter, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Pathology, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), shares 2nd place for his paper that aimed to validate the in vivo effectiveness of novel anti-TB drugs, called minor groove binders, during M. tb infection. An additional aim was to assess the accompanying host immune response during treatment.
“It’s great to have the contributions and fruit of productive collaborations recognised. Leveraging this result, we hope to publish more high-impact South African TB research because improved tuberculosis treatments are urgently needed,” said Kieswetter.

Samuel Muabe Alobwede, PhD Candidate, Department of Medicine won joint 3rd place for his paper that seeks to understand the extent and determinants of vaccination, and assess the reliability and validity of the 5C scale for measuring vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers in Cape Town.
“This win has motivated me to write more articles on vaccine hesitancy which was regarded as one of the 10 health threats by the World Health Organization in 2019,” said Alobwede.

Shelby-Sara Jones, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Department of Pathology shares 3rd place for her paper that aims to uncover an under-appreciated role for Lyl1 under various immune stimuli to aid in identifying novel therapeutics for TB.
“This acknowledgement will highlight the importance of Lyl1 in disease models outside of cancer which would hopefully motivate and encourage more funds and in-depth research,” said Jones.

Review Article

Ying Zhao

Ying Zhao, Infectious Diseases Fellow and PhD candidate, Department of Medicine is also affiliated with Groote Schuur Hospital and the Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa. She received 1st prize for her systematic review paper that addressed the clinical question of whether integrase inhibitors, that decrease HIV viral load faster than other antiretroviral classes, are linked to a higher incidence of immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS). Researchers found no association between integrase inhibitors regimens and the risk of IRIS, therefore supporting the current move to dolutegravir-based first-line regimens for HIV in resource-limited settings.

“I am honoured to have this acknowledgement and grateful to my supervisors whose vision, guidance and immense support made this project possible,” said Zhao.

Runners up:
Humaira Lambarey, PhD candidate, based at the Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences (IBMS) and at ICGEB, was recognised for her paper which aims to contribute to the understanding of Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) infection and KSHV-associated pathologies in the context of COVID-19. KSHV-associated pathologies include Kaposi sarcoma (which is the most prevalent and best described) as well as primary effusion lymphoma (PEL), multicentric Castleman disease and the newly described KSHV inflammatory cytokine syndrome (KICS) – all of which are rare although are most likely to be misdiagnosed and underreported. These are research areas that are still largely underrepresented in South Africa. This study cohort also represents a group of non-hospitalised HIV-infected patients.
“Having your article published in a scientific journal and additionally getting such positive feedback from the judges, given their contributions to research, gives one a feeling of accomplishment and provides further encouragement and motivation to further my research,” said Lambarey.

Millicent Omondi, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Pathology was recognised for this paper that investigated the systemic impact of helminth infection on immunity in the female reproductive tract. This has implications for women in helminth endemic regions, potentially at a higher risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections due to underlying helminth infection.
“This acknowledgement puts a spotlight on neglected tropical disease research and recognises the collaborative effort of everyone involved in making the project a success,” said Omondi.

Tatenda Murangi, PhD Candidate, Department of Pathology was recognised for this paper which aims to identify parasites which may cause allergic reactions to red meat as well as pharmaceutical and/or commercial products containing mammalian derivatives. The results showed exposure to the helminth Ascaris lumbricoides and tick bites to be a causative factor for this red meat allergy.
“This recognition is a right step in bringing to the table research focused on neglected tropical diseases,” said Murangi.  


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