Recognizing excellence in medical research science

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) strongly supports excellence in health research and has set aside a panel of medals to recognize science. SAMRC hosted its 7th Scientific Merit Awards, this ceremony was a hybrid event of a small gathering of attendees at the organization’s Cape Town head office and a virtual audience, celebrated the scientific excellence and contributions by outstanding medical scientists whose work has significantly impacted the lives of South Africans. An evening of fun, celebration, and recognition of the achievements within the academic health world. The event took place on the 5th of March.

Health and Science industry has provided a display of excellence across several categories, providing to our judging panel the undeniable effort, achievement, and all-around ability of dedicated health “geeks”. The annual Awards are an established set of medals with categories including Silver, Gold, Platinum, and a special Presidential Award.

Awards categories

  • Silver awards
  • Gold awards
  • Platinum awards
  • Presidential awards

The Silver awards conferred to emerging and upcoming scientists and those committed to capacity development

  1. The first recipient of the silver awards is UCT Associate Prof Claire Hoving. Hoving is a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellow in Public Health and Tropical Medicine, she is also a member of the Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM). An Associate Professor within the Division of Immunology at UCT. Hoving’s research focuses on HIV-related fungal infection. Hoving is a recipient of one of few accolades including the NRF Research Career Advancement award
  1. A chair of Cardiology at the University of Cape Town, a Head of Cardiology Services at the Groote Schuur Hospital, a Cardiologist by profession, and the Director at the Mayosi Research Collaborative Prof Mpiko Ntsekhe. He is the jack of all trades. His current areas of active research include Pericardial Disease with a focus on Tuberculosis Pericarditis; HIV-associated Cardiovascular Disease; Therapeutic Interventions for Rheumatic Heart Disease; Novel Therapeutics for Heart Failure; Strategies for the management of Acute and Chronic Ischemic Heart Disease and Dilated Cardiomyopathy. Prof Ntsekhe has a well-established publication track record including several book chapters, numerous peer-reviewed articles in high-impact journals such as Circulation, Nature Cardiology Reviews, and the European Heart Journal. One of his many accolades includes Member of Sigma Xi- 2020.
  1. Dr. Stephanus Malherbe is the Chief Medical Officer at the Stellenbosch University’s Biomedical Research Institute Clinical Team. In 2017 he received the HD Brede Award for the best Tuberculosis-related publication by a post-graduate student in the Health Sciences. Dr. Malherbe also received support from the SAMRC to complete his Ph.D., in the form of a scholarship from the Clinician Researcher Program from 2014 until 2016. 

Gold Medals(Gold Medals are awarded to researchers who have made substantial and influential contributions that have impacted health especially in the developing world.)

 1. Prof Graeme Meintjies is an adult Infectious Diseases Physician and the Second Chair and Deputy Head of the Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Concurrently with his research group, Prof Meintjes’ focuses on the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and immunopathogenesis of conditions that affect patients with advanced HIV disease in Africa, in particular: HIV-associated tuberculosis, HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis, immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS), complications of antiretroviral therapy and drug-resistant tuberculosis. 

2 . Head of the Centre for Emerging Zoonotic and Parasitic Diseases, National Institute for Communicable Diseases of the National Health Laboratory Service and an Associate Professor (Reader) at the University of Witwatersrand, School of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, Prof Janusz T. Paweska. As a veterinarian who specialized in medical and veterinary virology and epidemiology, he has expertise in the field of emerging and re-merging zoonotic pathogens of epidemic-prone potential, including highly specialized diagnostics, aiding patient management, and outbreak control measures, epidemiological studies, biosurveillance of zoonosis of public health importance. In 2008, Paweska conducted the discovery of a new Old-World arenavirus (named him Lujo) during a highly fatal nosocomial outbreak. 

3 . Karen Silwa is a Cardiologist, Director of the newly established Cape Heart Institute Professor, and Director at the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa (HICRA) at the University of Cape Town – formerly known as the MRC Interuniversity Cape Heart Group. She has designed and implemented several innovative research programs and has leveraged funding for these projects. She leads a large international registry on peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM), supported by the European Cardiac Society (EORP PPCM). 

Michele Ramsay is a Professor of Human Genetics at Wits University’s School of Pathology and occupies the position of Director at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (Wits University) from 2014 to the present.

Her research interests include:

-African population genetic diversity and the role of genetic variants in diseases exacerbated by adverse lifestyle choices, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and stroke

-The role of polygenic risk scores for complex diseases and trans-ethnic transferability of models

-African population genetics and how that informs our understanding of migration, admixture, and adaptation

Precision medicine approaches in an African context (Developing genetic assays for monogenic traits and pharmacogenomic variants)

  • Platinum Awards (2021 Platinum Medal, the category for scientists who have achieved a lifetime of exemplary and outstanding endeavors in the field of health.)
  1. Heather Zar is Professor and Chair within the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at Red Cross Children’s Hospital and also Director of the South African Medica Research Council’s Unit on Child & Adolescent Health. Her research focuses on childhood pneumonia, tuberculosis, asthma, and HIV-associated disease has had a global impact on strategies for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. She has and continues to mentor many postgraduate students (Ph.D., post-docs) most of whom are funded by the SAMRC its Research Capacity Development.

Linda-Gail Bekker is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and holds the position of Chief Research Officer at the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation and the Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre. Prof Bekker is an Infectious Disease Specialist with a keen interest in HIV, tuberculosis, and related diseases with a focus on Adolescent Health, Women’s Health, and IV Prevention. 

The Presidential awards

1. Prof Volmink is the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences and Professor in the Department of Global Health at Stellenbosch University. His areas of expertise are Clinical Epidemiology and Evidence-based medicine, with special contributions during a career extending over more than three decades including:

-Promoting evidence-based decision-making at local, national, and global levels, through knowledge translation efforts.

His extensive research work has earned him countless accolades including being an elected member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (FRCP (Edin.) He has received the Leverhulme Medal for Distinguished Contribution from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK.

Professor and Head of the Nuclear Medicine Department at the University of Pretoria and Steve Biko Academic Hospital, Mike Sathekga. He also holds the position of CEO/Head of the Main Nuclear Medicine Research Infrastructure (NuMeRI). An internationally acclaimed researcher, Prof Sathekge has a strong research focus in the areas of Theranostics, Targeted Radionuclide Therapy, New Radiopharmaceuticals, Infection Imaging, PET/CT. As a result, he has won various prestigious awards for his research in the field of nuclear medicine and has received a B rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The awards took place at a time when science is at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, almost one year to the day South Africa’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed.

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