The IDM introduces new Fellows

29 May 2023
The IDM introduces new Fellows
29 May 2023

The IDM introduces new Fellows


Recognising the transformation imperative and the need to develop creative ways to retain South Africans with relevant research and/or postdoctoral experience, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) launched the IDM Fellows, a new membership category.

Conceptualised as part of a transformation-related scheme, the new category addresses the internal capacity retention imperative recognised by the IDM. It aims to support the establishment of a career path for early- and intermediate-level researchers through association with the IDM and its community of scholars, a network that can facilitate the provision of insights, opportunities, and resources.

“In many ways, this talented group of early-career researchers represent the future of the IDM. I am delighted that they applied to become IDM Fellows and am committed to supporting them as they launch their careers as independent researchers”, said IDM Director, Valerie Mizrahi.

Announced in June 2022 the first cohort included 10 Fellows. This January, saw an additional six successful applicants joining the fold. The successful applicants were mostly associated with an existing IDM Member group with representatives from both the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Science. Membership is open to all UCT-based early- and intermediate-level researchers whose work aligns with the vision, mission, and values of the IDM, and who seek closer association with the Institute and its member groups.

This opportunity affords the 16 emerging researchers the same benefits as Full and Associate Members of the IDM to support their career-pathing. It is envisioned that the Fellows will be eligible for Associate Membership at the end of their five-year non-renewable term.

This is what the 2022 Fellows had to say about their appointments. Except where specified these researchers are based at the Faculty of Health Sciences:

  • Melissa-Rose Abrahams is focused on characterising the greatest barrier to an HIV cure, the latent viral reservoir, specifically in African
    Melissa Rose
    women. About this opportunity she said, “The IDM is a centre for excellence and its members generate globally competitive research outputs. This affiliation will hold me to a level of quality scientific research and hopefully provide an environment where I can collaborate and learn from others’ examples and experiences.”

Melissa-Rose Abrahams, lecturer in the Department of Pathology

  • Rubina Bunjun
    Rubina Bunjun is working on understanding immunity to COVID-   19  in understudied populations. She studies pre-existing immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in adolescents, and immune dysfunction in the context of “long COVID”. Dr Bunjun said: “Being formally affiliated  with the IDM, globally recognised for its biomedical research in Africa, is a great honour. I hope to become a research leader on   the international stage – taking advantage of the strong networking  and training opportunities provided through the Institute.”

Rubina Bunjun, junior research fellow (JRF), Department of Pathology

  • Sonwabile Dzanibe is investigating the development of infant immune systems and factors that influence early childhood vaccines. The
    Sonwabile Dzanibe
    key focus of his research is to develop novel vaccines aimed at reducing infectious disease in children. For Dzanibe this accomplishment means becoming part of the IDM’s network, which he recognises as an opportunity to establish a base for a research enterprise. He said: “The available resources within the Institute will aid in forming a systems immunology research approach in the design and development of next generation vaccines.”

Sonwabile Dzanibe, JRF, Department of Pathology

  • Tariq Ganief
    Tariq Ganief is primarily interested in using mass spectrometry-based proteomics and metabolomics for clinical research. This includes developing diagnostic and prognostic markers as well as understanding disease mechanisms. “I would like to establish an expert mass spectrometry-based research group, focussing on the much-needed clinical research needs of South Africa and Africa at large. What better environment to do that than among world-leading researchers with similar goals?” he asked.

Dr Tariq Ganief, Senior Research Officer (SRO), Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences

  • Anna-Ursula Happel is focused on identifying vaginal risk factors for preterm birth in Sub-Saharan women in Africa. She’s also
    Anna Happel
    interested in the development of microbiome-based interventions to improve the health of these women and their infants. About this recognition she said, “This will allow me to gain access to additional mentorship and other valuable resources provided by the IDM. Fellowship may ultimately help me achieve my goal of becoming a leading scientist in maternal-child health relevant to Africa.”

Dr Anna-Ursula Happel, JRF, Department of Pathology

  • Simon Mendelsohn
    Simon Mendelsohn is working on new tests for diagnosing Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection, early (pre-symptomatic) TB disease, TB treatment response monitoring, and using biomarkers to guide TB preventive and curative treatment. He said, “This will provide a supportive platform to create my own research identity, working towards establishing myself as an independent investigator and building my own substantive, innovative research programme.”

 Dr Simon Mendelsohn, clinical research officer (CRO) in the Department of Pathology and is based at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI)

  • Nyarai Soko’s work centres on the role of genomics in the development and progression of human disease, with special interests in
    Nyarai Soko
    eye disorders and female genital cancers. She said: “Through mentorship from world-renowned scientists this recognition will provide guidance in my personal growth s a researcher.”

Dr Nyarai Soko is an Honorary Lecturer in the Department of Pathology and a research affiliate at the Harare Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Institute in Zimbabwe. She is based at the Precision and Genomic Medicine Research Unit.

  • Pauline Van Der Watt
    Pauline Van Der Watt is investigating the link between the circadian clock and cancer at the molecular level. According to her it is becoming increasingly apparent that circadian clock disruptions can promote cancer development. Of the opportunity she said: “[This] will allow me access to IDM resources, facilities, and equipment, and to form collaborations which will benefit my work. I would like to drive research that is relevant in South Africa and translatable for clinical application.”

Dr Pauline Van Der Watt research officer (RO)Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences

  • Kathryn Wicht’s work is focused on the mechanism of action and resistance studies for Plasmodium and hemozoin inhibitors in
    Kathryn Wicht
    development as potential novel antimalarial drugs. Her research aims to build capacity in African for malaria biology that can effectively aid medicinal chemistry projects. “This affiliation will help build and strengthen sustainable and rewarding collaborations with groups at the IDM. I hope the recognition will assist me in establishing my own independent research career that aligns with the vision, missions and values of the IDM.”


Dr Kathryn Wicht is a RO at the Holistic Drug Discovery and Development (H3D) Centre and in the Department of ChemistryFaculty of Science.

  • John Woodland
    John Woodland is interested in developing molecular strategies, such as treatments and tools, to tackle infectious diseases – with a focus on malaria. “My aspiration is to make a positive contribution to science in South Africa, with a global impact. And to do this in infectious diseases and molecular medicine through drug discovery research underpinned by medicinal chemistry and chemical biology,” he said, adding that: “By focusing on infections that disproportionately affect the African continent, this ambition dovetails with the IDM’s mission to conduct research that is leading-edge and relevant to the needs of African people.”

Dr John Woodland, JRF in the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, and also works with the Holistic Drug Discovery and Development (H3D) Centre

This is what the 2023 Fellows had to say about their appointments:

  • Sophia Gessner
    Sophia Gessner is working on understanding aspects of mycobacterial biology that contribute to the transmission and acquisition of drug resistance and can improve TB control measures. She said: “Being accepted into such a collaborative environment offers many opportunities to pursue multidisciplinary projects and collaborate with leading minds. I’ll gain access to a variety of tools and platforms that will allow me to perform my research on state-of-the-art equipment – setting me apart from others in the field.”

Dr Sophia Gessner, RO in the Department of Pathology, and is part of the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit (MMRU)

  • Katherine Gill
    Katherine Gill is a clinical and public health researcher with a strong interest in the fields of HIV and STI’s, especially in adolescents and young people. “Adolescence is a unique stage of development and is often an under researched area,” says Gill. Adding: “There are an estimated 10 million adolescents in South Africa who comprise nearly 20% of the population. Research into the sexual and mental health issues affecting young people aligns well with the IDM mission of tackling diseases of importance in Africa and translating research into policy. Ultimately I hope my work will help to provide solutions to some of overwhelming health problems facing our country.”

Dr Katherine Gill is based at the Department of Medicine and is part of the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation.

  • Anastasia Koch is focused on implementing high-quality public engagement work aimed at decreasing stigma and stimulating positive
    Anastasia Koch
    health-seeking behaviour with the hope of benefiting people affected by infectious disease. “Graduating with my PhD within the MMRU has meant developing nourishing relationships within the Institute. There’s been a lot of support and strategic advice for Eh!woza, especially from Prof Digby Warner. In fact, our seed funding came from the MMRU in 2013,” said Koch. “I’m keen on continuing some science research going forward and having the academic support that comes from being a Fellow will be invaluable. I hope to learn from IDM members both from a scientific and strategic perspective and to contribute new ideas where relevant.”

Dr Anastasia Koch, Honorary Lecturer in the Department of Pathology and is part of Eh!woza and the MMRU.

  •  Munyaradzi Musvosvi
    Munyaradzi Musvosvi is working on projects aimed at understanding the immune response against TB, to develop better vaccines and tools to diagnosis TB. Musvosvi said: “As a Fellow, I will be able to strengthen my networks within the Institute and use this platform to develop research projects that will alleviate disease burdens in South Africa.”



Dr Munyaradzi Musvosvi, RO, Department of Pathology

  • Charlotte Schutz works in the field of advanced HIV disease and opportunistic infections. With a particular focus on severe HIV- associated-TB,
    Charlotte Schutz
    underlying pathophysiology and contributors to mortality. For Schutz: “Affiliation with the IDM provides me the opportunity to engage with and learn from current members. This will help me grow in my current role and develop as an independent researcher.”

Dr Charlotte Schutz, CRO, Department of Medicine

  • Musalula Sinkala
    Musalula Sinkala has a broad research interest in computational biology and bioinformatics at the intersection of molecular medicine, genetics, and machine learning. “The fellowship will enable me to continue my research at a high level, forge research collaborations in the IDM and beyond, and establish a bioinformatics and machine learning research group at the IDM,” said Sinkala.



Dr Musalula Sinkala postdoctoral fellow, Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences


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