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Thursday, December 01, 2022

Young researchers crowned in FameLab scientific communication contest

The University of Cape Town (UCT) Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine (IDM) Education Working Group, in partnership with Jive Media Africa, organized a hybrid FameLab in May 2022. The two-part session was presented online and in the IDM. Wolfson Pavilion Lecture Theater.

Eighteen emerging researchers between the ages of 20 and 35 based in the IDM, presented initial talks at the beginning of the process. Eleven were shortlisted and invited to participate in the last day of this scientific communication skills workshop. The young researchers spanned disciplines such as medical virology, immunology, chemical and systems biology, among others.

The training workshops were designed to build internal skills and capabilities in preparation for the upcoming competition heats. In each series, contestants present a three-minute talk to a live, online audience, including the judges.

Along with the audience, four judges sat down for the morning session, the first part of the day’s presentations. The judges included Dr. Anele Gela, a researcher with the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI); Dr. Rubina Bunjun, infectious disease immunologist; Dr. Zenda Woodman, Senior Lecturer in the Division of Medical Biochemistry; and Dr. Sabelo Hadebe, full professor of the Division of Immunology, all in the Faculty of Health Sciences of the UCT.

the last round

Six participants made it to the final round which was held that same afternoon. In this session, two judges replaced the two in the morning. They were Dr. Anastasia Koch, co-director of Eh!woza, a social impact non-profit organization incubated at the IDM; and Professor Komala Pillay, head of the Pathology Division.

Addressing attendees in her keynote address, IDM Fellow and Associate Professor Jo-Ann Passmore of the Division of Medical Virology acknowledged american scientist – referring to a blog post that highlights the importance of scientific communication as a fundamental part of daily life.

“I think it is our responsibility as scientists and mentors to develop this capacity and nurture it in scientists.”

“Scientists have to give talks, we have to write articles, communicate with a wide variety of audiences and educate others. when the scientists [can] do this: communicate more effectively with broader non-scientists, build support for [the] sciences and encourages more informed decision-making at all levels. From government, to communities, to the individual,” said Associate Professor Passmore.

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“As a member of the IDM Education Committee, I believe it is our responsibility as scientists and mentors to develop this capacity and nurture it in scientists. I am so proud of those within the institute who raised their hands this morning and entered the first ever IDM competition.”

The winner will proceed to a master class and will represent the IDM in the national semi-finals of the South African leg in September 2022. Those who are successful in this round will proceed to an international final towards the end of the year. The international FameLab competition began in the UK in 2005 and has operated in over 30 countries.

Winners of the IDM Famelab 2022 contest

2022 06 24 Sohair Geyer Benjamin
First Place: Sohair Geyer-Benjamin is a PhD Fellow in the Division of Immunology and a Scientific Officer in the Division of Medical Virology.

Tuberculosis, caused by mycobacterial tuberculosis, is commonly known as a disease of the lungs. In its most severe form, it can progress to the central nervous system (CNS) causing high mortality rates or long-term neurological damage. Astrocytes are resident brain cells that support surrounding cells; however, ongoing research has shown that they are also involved in the body’s defense against infectious agents.

Through her research project, Investigating Astrocyte Immune Modulation During Central Nervous System TB (CNS-TB), Geyer-Benjamin aims to investigate how astrocytes regulate immune responses and whether they offer protection during Alzheimer’s disease. TB of the CNS.

“Advancing our understanding of astrocyte activity and the mechanisms that drive their responses during CNS TB will help us develop effective intervention strategies to improve treatment and essentially improve disease outcome in patients,” Geyer said. -Benjamin.

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He praised the importance of communication and science engagement and said that the Famelab experience provides an opportunity to engage with communities and stimulate interest and enthusiasm in medical science.

“It is essential that scientific knowledge is shared outside of academia, to inform and contribute to the public’s understanding of current research and how it affects healthcare. [This can] also foster collaboration between researchers and various social groups, leading to innovation and policy development, advocacy, education and outreach”.

2022 06 24 Lerato Rametse
Second place: Dr. Cosnet Lerato Rametse, Ph.D., Ph.D. fellow in the final year in the Division of Immunology.

Research on HIV, and deepening understanding of how it is infected and transmitted, has largely been studied through the lens of female biology. How HIV infects the penis and how HIV infects through the penis is one of the least studied aspects of HIV.

Referring to his project, “Characterization of the immune environment in the male penis and assessment of how it is affected by the presence or absence of asymptomatic sexually transmitted infections,” Rametse described it as a perspective-shifting exercise in HIV transmission research. .

“We are currently characterizing the immune environment in the male penis by evaluating the biological factors that are altered after circumcision. In addition, the effect of asymptomatic sexually transmitted infections on this immune environment of the penis is explored.”

This work aims to provide a deeper understanding of how basic immune biology is configured within different sites of the penis, this includes the foreskin and glans. This will offer a springboard towards the establishment of alternative HIV prevention strategies in men. This could include the development of gel formulations that target specific proteins or cells in the uncircumcised penis.

Grateful for FameLab’s experience in award recognition, Rametse said: “The workshops and multiple rounds of competition with internal feedback really contributed to my mission of building my science communication craft. This, I believe, is critical to ensuring that I can communicate my research and its findings to various audiences.”



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