March 2017 spotlight of the month
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Hypertension in Africa Research Team (HART), North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa
- How did you become interested in research relating to Hypertension?
I have been interested in cardiovascular physiology since I was an undergraduate and always knew that I wanted to pursue it as a career. Hypertension is such a significant global health issue and even though a body of research has been conducted to understand the development thereof, the prevalence is still increasing.
With regard to South Africa, it has been identified that those from African descent have an increased risk of developing hypertension, when compared to those from European descent. Therefore, there is an urgent need to comprehend the underlying mechanisms as well as the interplay with various risk factors that could contribute to the burden of hypertension. It is vital to improve efforts to limit the increasing prevalence of hypertension, especially in Africa where health resources are limited.
- Describe your research & the program/lab (info of your supervisor) that you are in?
I am currently a postdoctoral fellow within the Hypertension in Africa Research Team (HART). My research focuses on factors leading to the development of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, especially in the black South African population. My specific interests include vascular structure and function and early vascular aging. My postdoctoral research training is under the mentorship of a dynamic cardiovascular researcher, Prof Alta Schutte.
- What do you consider to be your substantial scientific contribution so far (provide Pubmed PMID if possible)?
As an upcoming researcher I have 3 first-author published papers in accredited international scientific journals referring to cardiovascular function and hypertension:
* Breet Y, Schutte AE, Huisman HW, Eloff FC, Du Plessis JL, Kruger A, et al. Lung function, inﬂammation and cardiovascular mortality in Africans. European Journal of Clinical Investigation 2016; 46: 901-910 DOI: 10.1111/eci.12674
* van Rooyen Y, Schutte AE, Huisman HW, Eloff FC, Du Plessis JL, Kruger A, et al. South African and international reference values for lung function and its relationship with blood pressure in Africans. Heart, Lung and Circulation 2015; 6: 573-582 PMID: 25648382
* van Rooyen Y, Schutte AE, Huisman HW, Eloff FC, Du Plessis JL, Kruger A, et al. Inflammation as Possible Mediator for the Relationship Between Lung and Arterial Function. Lung 2015:1-9 PMID: 26411588
- What is your favourite manuscript from a lab or mentor other than your own (provide Pubmed PMID if possible)?
That’s a difficult question, there are so many excellent papers in the field of hypertension! I would say it would be the 2005 paper from Lionel H. Opie and Yackoob K. Seedat, entitled “Hypertension in Sub-Saharan African Populations” (PMID: 16330697), and with focus on my own research, a paper by Carmel M. McEniery and colleagues entitled “Central blood pressure: current evidence and clinical importance” (PMID: 24459197).
- What facilities are essential for your research?
My research is mostly conducted in the Hypertension Clinic of the North-West University’s Potchefstroom Campus. The clinic is equipped to conduct various cardiovascular measurements such as 24h blood pressure monitoring, ECG, ultrasound and echocardiography, pulse wave analysis, blood sampling and biochemical analyses, laboratory facilities, anthropometry, and general health questionnaires. My focus is mainly directed towards a bi-ethnic population preferably one of African and Caucasian descent.
- Where do your research strengths lie? Why? What are your research weaknesses? How will you improve?
I believe my personal strengths lie in my dedication and work ethic. I also have very supporting and knowledgeable colleagues who always provide valid input and motivation. I would say my weakness is a lack of funding to pursue various avenues related to my research. As a young, emerging researcher, I will improve through building a network with various collaborators, especially international and continuous applications for grants.
- Describe your unforgettable (proudest) moment in science, and the most challenging situation that you have had to overcome (lessons learnt) so far?
My proudest moment was winning a silver award for an oral presentation at the South African Stroke and Hypertension Congress in 2016. Then a PhD student, being given this award was a privilege and it was satisfying to see that my work was of interest and well-accepted among an audience of experts in hypertension.
There have been many challenges throughout my research training which have shaped me as a researcher and academic and I have learned that perseverance is important when building a successful career in science.
- At which conference did you first present? How was your experience?
The first conference I presented at was in 2013 at the 41st Meeting of the Physiology Society of Southern Africa in Pretoria, South Africa. I was a PhD student at the time and although I was extremely nervous, this is where I realized that I enjoy public speaking and engaging with other passionate researchers.
- What upcoming conferences will you be attending, and what is the furthest distance that you have traveled for a conference?
The next conference that I will be attending will be the ARTERY 17 (17th Conference of the Association for Research into Arterial Structure and Physiology), which will be held in October 2017 at the Palazzo dei Congressi, Pisa, Italy.
This will be the furthest I have traveled for a conference.
- How did you learn about ISH/NIN and its activities?
From my colleague, Prof Ruan Kruger, who is also the Chair of the New Investigator Committee.
- What area(s) do you wish to specialize in the future?
I will continue to focus on vascular structure and function and the relation thereof with hypertension.
- Who is your role model in Science? Why?
I admire the work of Prof Karen Sliwa and I think she has made a substantial contribution to the understanding of heart disease in South Africa, specifically in those of African descent. She is also an excellent role model to young women in science, having shown that it is possible to raise a family and still be a dedicated researcher.
- What are your scientific goals? Advice for talented emerging scientists?
My long term goals are to establish myself as researcher in the field of hypertension research and cardiovascular disease development, to build a network with future collaborators and to actively contribute to the further education and training of young cardiovascular scientists. My short term goals are to become a National Research Foundation rated scientist. This implies that your peers (both nationally and internationally) believe you can become an established researcher within a few years. In addition, I want to pursue various funding opportunities.
My advice for talented emerging scientists will be the wise words of Nelson Mandela: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.” Dedicating yourself to research may be very challenging at times and hardships are inevitable, but the key is to believe in yourself and your research and to never give up.