FHS gains two new SARChI chairs

2 Sep 2015 - 14:30

Deputy Dean of Research Prof Tania Douglas and Head of Dermatology Prof Nonhlanhla Khumalo have been awarded  prestigious South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) Chairs in their respective fields, Biomedical Engineering and Innovation and Dermatology and Toxicology. 

They are among the five prominent female researchers at UCT and 42 females nationally to be announced as new SARChI Chairs on 2 September by Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, as part of the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation initiative to promote women in research.  UCT now has 39 chairs, 14 of which are female. 

These awards raise the total number of  SARChI Chairs in the Faculty to 12.   Professors Douglas and Khumalo join colleagues Professors Ernesta Meintjes, Di McCntyre and Annelise Williamson as the other women who hold SARChI chairs in the Faculty. 

“I am delighted at this news,” was the response of Interim Dean Professor Gregory Hussey to the announcement. ”Such accomplishments are the results of years of hard work, dedication and excellence in research, and I am proud that this has been acknowledged at the highest research echelons in the country.” 

The latest SARChI call was directed specifically at women researchers as part of an effort to correct the local and global gender imbalance in research. According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), women account for only about 30% of the world's researchers, while only one in five countries have achieved gender parity in research. 

The SARChI Women in Research initiative invited public South African universities to submit up to five research proposals, which were then assessed by a rigorous NRF-managed peer-review process. 

All five of UCT applicants were successful. Prior to this announcement, UCT was home to 34 SARChI Chairs, of which nine were women (just more than a quarter). That proportion has now risen by almost 10% to comprising over a third of the total chairs held at UCT. 

"We are not there yet, but every improvement in the gender imbalance is significant," says Professor Danie Visser, deputy vice chancellor for research and internationalisation. "All five women have made a siginificant impact in their respective fields, both locally and internationally. It is my hope that they will inspire the next generation of young women to come up the ranks of research."

Professor Tania Douglas (director of the South African Medical Research Council/UCT Medical Imaging Research Unit and deputy dean for research in the Faculty of Health Sciences)

Biomedical Engineering and Innovation

Biomedical engineering has the potential to address some of South Africa’s unique public health challenges through its role in developing sustainable technological solutions to improve health and address health disparities. The SARChI Chair in Biomedical Engineering and Innovation will contribute to socio-economic development in South Africa through research towards appropriate technological solutions for a healthier population, collaborating with industry for the commercialisation of these technologies and developing interdisciplinary skills and capacity in biomedical engineering and health innovation.

As a biomedical engineer, Professor Tania Douglas has specialised in imaging and image analysis, particularly X-ray imaging, automated microscopy and computer-aided detection of abnormalities. She also has a strong interest in educating engineers and innovators who are able to address health in a contextually appropriate manner. 

Associate Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo (head of dermatology at Groote Schuur Hospital and UCT)

Dermatology and Toxicology

The key focus of this SARChI Chair will be to understand human hair — its variation, the fundamental principles or mechanisms that determine hair shape and how this affects incorporation of chemicals circulating in the blood stream. This understanding will facilitate the development of new tests that use hair in medicine: for example, a novel means by which to monitor patient compliance with antiretroviral drug treatment schedules for HIV infection. Further, research on skin toxicity also aims to reduce preventable cosmetic adverse effects (in collaboration with the industry regulatory body). This research programme will improve the quality of life for all South Africans.

Associate Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo has established an international reputation as a clinician scientist working on the structure and epidemiology of hair and scalp conditions. With funding from the National Skills Fund, she recently launched the first Hair and Skin Research Laboratory (HSR Lab), a state-of-the-art national facility to focus on comprehensive hair testing and safety in cosmetic formulation. She is the founding editor of the South African Journal of Child Health, the first local peer-reviewed journal specifically addressing child health. A dermatologist trained in evidence-based medicine, Khumalo has led the production of several systematic reviews and was part of the committee that developed guidelines for the treatment of bullous pemphigoid (the commonest autoimmune blistering skin disorders) for the British Association of Dermatologists. Her main research interest is the study of hair loss, particularly the specific alopecias common in African hair, and she has contributed significantly to global understanding of hair diseases. “I am also a teacher whose audience extends beyond the traditional academic field,” she says, “to promoting the public understanding of science through the publication of the book, Genes for Teens.”

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