Top Female researchers at CSIR addressing African healthcare and nutrition challenges
Women scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) are on a quest to address some of Africa’s most pressing challenges such as malnutrition, breast cancer and diabetes, as well as communicable diseases such TB and HIV/Aids and it effects, especially in rural areas. They are looking at areas with limited access to affordable healthcare, therapeutics or nutritious food, lack of these contributing to lower life expectancy and quality of life of those residing in such areas on the African continent.
These women are applying their expertise and research knowledge to address hunger, malnutrition and poor healthcare in rural and peri-urban areas by working towards affordable and accessible technologies.
Dr Nomusa Dlamini
Dr Nomusa Dlamini is principal researcher and Acting Research Group Leader: Food Safety Programme and former Fulbright Scholar. She has more than 20 years’ experience in food science and technology, including nutritional and phytochemical analysis, product development and the processing of indigenous food products incorporating grains and vegetables. She works closely with small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMME’s), communities and industry to create safe and nutritional food products from indigenous plant species.
Part of Dr Dlamini’s research involves investigation into how edible indigenous plants that show health benefits can be used to formulate innovative food products. This includes analysing plants to determine basic nutrient content before preparing extracts that will provide a better understanding of their chemical profiles. She collaborates with chemists and botanists to confirm identities of edible plants after which these can be used as ingredients in nutritious food products.
Benefits of Her Research
The products Dr Dlamini and her team develop not only promote good health and food safety, but also contribute towards job creation and poverty alleviation. Her research has enabled communities to generate income and SMME’s which have worked with her have been able to commercialise products based on indigenous knowledge. Her work has been recognised by TELUS World of Science, the World Trade Organization, the Technology Innovation Agency and most recently, World Association of Industrial and Technological Research Organizations.
Dr Patience Mthunzi-Kufa
Dr Patience Mthunzi-Kufa is CSIR’s principal researcher and Research Group Leader in Bio photonics, has been spearheading the development and design of novel healthcare solutions for 18 years, the past three focusing mainly on photonics-based point-of-care diagnostic devices and biosensors for HIV, TB, Covid-19 and non-communicable diseases, as well as machine learning for point-of-care diagnostics. She has also been involved in research into counterfeit drug screening devices.
“The work we do is aimed at reducing the burden of disease in developing countries. Infectious diseases are a major cause of mortality and our primary goal is to develop multi-screening, portable devices for HIV, TB and Covid-19 through the Biophotonics Facility. Through these diagnostic technologies, we hope to provide patients in rural and peri-urban areas, who might not have access to laboratories or healthcare facilities, with non-invasive and cost-effective medical devices, allowing them to monitor and manage their health in the comfort of their own homes,” says Dr Mthunzi-Kufa.
A laser scientist with expertise in bio photonics, laser physics, medical biochemistry, molecular biology, virology and biochemistry, Dr Mthunzi-Kufa played an instrumental role in setting up South Africa’s first Biophotonics Facility. Through her forward-thinking approach and industry-facing business strategies, she has managed to secure over R150 million in research grants towards projects performed in bio photonics.
Beyond her lab-based research, Dr Mthunzi-Kufa is passionate about sharing her work through high-impact, peer-reviewed journals and popular science magazines and at local and international conferences. The Academy of Science of South Africa selected her as one of four young scientists to represent South Africa at the World Economic Forum’s Summer Davos conference in China in 2011. She has also served as reviewer for the Journal of Biomedical Optics and as an external moderator for the Biomedical Technology IV module at the Tshwane University of Technology.
Awards and Accolades
A recipient of the Order of Mapungubwe in Bronze for her national and international contribution in the biochemistry and bio photonics fields, Dr Mthunzi-Kufa was recently appointed by the Office of the Presidency as the Deputy Chairperson of the Advisory Council on National Orders. Her role includes advising the President of South Africa on nominations received for deserving South African and foreign nationals to receive National Orders.
Dr Bathabile Ramalapa
Dr Bathabile Ramalapa, a CSIR senior researcher, is a South African recognised by InspiringFifty, a global initiative to increase diversity in technology. With over a decade of experience on the global stage, Dr Ramalapa uses her work in nanotechnology and nanomedicine to develop drug delivery formulations which offer more patient-centric drug treatments for breast cancer and diabetes patients across Africa.
Her desire is to create more effective drug treatments ensuring that breast cancer and diabetes patients consume the right quantity of drugs required by the body, reducing side effects.
“Drug treatments that are currently available on the market sometimes have problems related to absorption, bioavailability and resistance. As a result, they tend to have toxic side effects on diabetes and breast cancer patients. My focus is on reformulating existing drug treatments to make them more patient-centric. This essentially means reconfiguring a drug in such a way that it has higher absorption and bioavailability, making sure that the prescribed drug has the right concentration for the body to respond positively, so that the side effects are reduced and, possibly, the dose,” says Dr Ramalapa.
She collaborates with partners from government, higher education and local SMME’s with the objective of enhancing patient drug compliance and reducing healthcare costs.
Awards and Accolades
As a scientist with a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences and another in Chemical Sciences, her expertise has won her a visiting scholar travel grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a Novartis research scientist fellowship and the European Union Dual PhD Grant. She also shares her knowledge with the National Research Foundation Grant Review Committee on Chemistry and Material Sciences and the South African Medical Research Council Grant Review Committee on Life Sciences and Chemistry.
The CSIR strives to accelerate socio-economic prosperity through innovation and prides itself on attracting exceptional scientific talent to develop innovative solutions in response to the needs of the country and continent.