Professor Bongani Nkambule, academic leader of Research within the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences (SLMMS), said he was excited and felt fortunate to be selected to be part of the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) – the longest-running cohort study in the USA – and to work in the world’s leading National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Platelet Biology laboratory under the mentorship of Dr Andrew Johnson, a top-rated and exceptional NHLBI Senior Investigator.
Nkambule received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Senior Research Fellowship, spending two years within the FHS in Massachusetts, also visiting the National Institutes of Health Main Campus Flow Cytometry Core Laboratory in Bethesda, Maryland.
Nkambule said he was fortunate to travel to London and Italy where he presented at several conferences, including the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH) in London; the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions in Chicago; and the Gordon Research Congress on Cell Biology of Megakaryocytes and Platelets in Italy.
Nkambule is an expert on Flow Cytometry, a technology that rapidly analyses single cells or particles as they flow past single or multiple lasers while suspended in a buffered salt-based solution. He is an avid researcher, with several publications in the field of platelet biology supported through the UKZN-Developing Research Innovation, Localisation, and Leadership in South Africa (DRILL) programme and SLMMS.
Nkambule’s time abroad included a bit of skiing and a lot of world-class research! ‘I had the privilege of collaborating with the leaders in the field of platelet biology and talented emerging scientists with diverse expertise. Most of my time was spent in the FHS platelet laboratory and split between setting up novel quantitative flow cytometry assays analysing, which are currently used in the ongoing exam and interacting with the hard-working laboratory staff in the FHS.
‘I learnt a lot of technical and leadership skills from my mentor in my time spent at the NIH, and of course some analytic approaches towards analysing and managing large flow cytometry datasets. Through the guidance of my mentor, I spear-headed the analysis of more than 3 200 Framingham heart study participant flow cytometry data files. While balancing the pressures of setting up and providing flow cytometry training in the FHS platelet laboratory, I was fortunate to maintain my research productivity and publish my work in Thrombosis Research, a high-impact journal (Impact factor =10.4).
‘Some of the most exciting outcomes of the fellowship include the current multinational study that I am setting up in several sites in Namibia and South Africa with the support of my NIH mentor and my recent appointment as a council member on the AHA lifestyle Clinical Lipidology, Lipoprotein, Metabolism and Thrombosis Committee of the Council on Arteriosclerosis, and Vascular Biology (ATVB).’
UKZN remains Nkambule’s institution of choice for the local and international opportunities it offers while transforming the academic landscape in South Africa. ‘I joined the Institution through a unique accelerated academic programme offered in LMMS in 2016, and through this initiative and other similar programmes (such as the UKZN-DRILL programme), I’ve received effective mentorship and continuous support from exceptional mentors and senior academics in the College of Health Sciences such as the Dean and Head of the SLMMS, Professor Musa Mabandla; Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation, Professor Mosa Moshabela; and the College of Health Sciences.
Words: Lunga Memela