May 2017 spotlight of the month
Senior Lecturer and Researcher
Medical Research Council Unit for Hypertension & Cardiovascular Disease
Hypertension in Africa Research Team (HART)
North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
Tel: +2718 285 2262 | E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- How did you become interested in research relating to Hypertension?
I will never forget the day in my third year of undergraduate studies when I first heard about the cardiac changes that occur in a newborn the moment they take their first breath. The topic of cardiovascular physiology was sold on me then.
It was not long after I joined our research group for my postgraduate studies that I became aware of the need for research into hypertension among the population groups that surround me.
The South African population is double burdened by cardiovascular disease and HIV, while the high hypertension prevalence is ever increasing, regardless of available anti-hypertensive treatment. I therefore had to attempt to contribute to research in this field.
- Describe your research & the program/lab (info of your supervisor) that you are in?
Thus far my research mainly focussed on the association of vascular inflammation with lifestyle and cardiometabolic risk factors, which may play a role in the development of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, and whether inflammation can predict cardiovascular mortality among the black South African population.
I perform research as part of the Hypertension in Africa Research Team (HART) under the leadership of Prof Hugo Huisman and Prof Alta Schutte.
- What do you consider to be your substantial scientific contribution so far (provide Pubmed PMID if possible)?
During my PhD I explored a novel inflammatory biomarker, called soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (suPAR), and published a series of three manuscripts from this topic, titled:
- Associations of suPAR with lifestyle and cardiometabolic risk factors (PMID: 24810168)
- Soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor and hypertension among black South Africans after 5 years (PMID: 25740290)
- Soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor as a prognostic marker of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in a black population (PMID: 25771228)
- What is your favourite manuscript from a lab or mentor other than your own (provide Pubmed PMID if possible)?
This is a tricky question to answer, as I have many favourite manuscripts, each focussing on different aspects of my research.
From a hypertension perspective, however, the paper by Lionel Opie and Yackoob Seedat titled “Hypertension in Sub-Saharan African Populations” (PMID: 16330697), and from an inflammation (suPAR) perspective, the paper by Jesper Eugen-Olsen and colleagues titled “Circulating soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor predicts cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mortality in the general population” (PMID: 20561148) stand out for me.
- What facilities are essential for your research?
Our research is targeted towards exploring the cardiovascular profile and various associated risk factors and markers of human participants in South Africa. We perform measurements at the Hypertension Training and Research Clinic on the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University, as well as in the field within rural areas.
The success of our studies depends on the team of researchers and postgraduate students who perform the measurements, on the fieldworkers who recruit and follow up the participants, the equipment available in the clinic and laboratory, as well as the funding available to analyse data and samples obtained.
- Where do your research strengths lie? Why? What are your research weaknesses? How will you improve?
I have a passion to help people, which drives the outlook I have on research. I work with researchers who are known for their research integrity, knowledge and dedication. As an emerging researcher, I am fortunate to have the input of these colleagues on my career.
I have yet to apply for funding to assist with additional data analyses and travel in the future. I will take care to start planning and submit such funding proposals from this year.
- Describe your unforgettable (proudest) moment in science, and the most challenging situation that you have had to overcome (lessons learnt) so far?
Obtaining my PhD degree was a very proud moment for me, especially since finishing my postgraduate degrees was one of the most challenging things I have ever done.
More recently, I was honoured with an invitation from Prof Rhian Touyz and Prof Naveed Sattar to conduct a three month research visit at the BHF Cardiovascular Research Centre in Glasgow, Scotland under supervision of Dr Jennifer Logue and Dr Paul Welsh. This unforgettable international research visit took me out of my comfort zone and I had to live up to many expectations. This was a large challenge but it equipped me with many skills that I will apply to my research and personal live in the future.
- At which conference did you first present? How was your experience?
My first local conference was the 40th Meeting of the Physiology Society of Southern Africa, held in Stellenbosch, South Africa in 2012. My first international conference was the Joint Meeting of the European Society of Hypertension (ESH) and International Society of Hypertension (ISH), held in Athens, Greece in 2014.
I will never forget my first oral presentation; it was nerve-wracking, but attending a conference opens up a complete new world for a young researcher.
- What upcoming conferences will you be attending, and what is the furthest distance that you have traveled for a conference?
The furthest I have ever travelled for a conference was to Athens, Greece.I would like to attend the 18th International Symposium on Atherosclerosis, which will be held in Toronto, Canada in June next year, though this would depend on whether funding will be available.
- How did you learn about ISH/NIN and its activities?
Some of my colleagues in HART are members of ISH/NIN and introduced me to the network. I also attended the ISH/NIN cocktail function during the above-mentioned conference in Greece, where I had the pleasure of meeting the ISH/NIN members in person.
- What area(s) do you wish to specialize in the future?
I would want to build on my current research and explore the role of endothelial inflammation in early vascular changes in order to contribute to a preventative approach to combat the high cardiovascular disease prevalence in the South African population group.
- Who is your role model in Science? Why?
The books and other publications of Professor Lionel Opie will always be a large inspiration to me as a cardiovascular physiologist. In my opinion he has substantially contributed to understanding the physiological role of the cardiovascular system in disease, and also in South Africa.
- What are your scientific goals? Advice for talented emerging scientists?
I aim to obtain first-hand knowledge from experts in my field and to build a network with future collaborators. This will enable me to develop as an innovative researcher and to establish a niche area on which I can build my future research. I want to make a substantial contribution to the field of cardiovascular science in the future and thereby inspire students to become future researchers.
My advice to other emerging researchers would be to always do what they believe in and let that drive their talent towards achieving their goals.