Professor Anil Chuturgoon (centre) inspires greatness by graduating four PhD students

Four Medical Biochemist Researchers Awarded Doctorates

The Discipline of Medical Biochemistry at UKZN’s College of Health Sciences celebrated achievements of four Medical Biochemist Scientists who were awarded Doctor of Philosophy in Health Sciences degrees.

The four PhD holders are Dr Sanil Duleep Singh, Dr Shanel Raghubeer,  Dr Samantha Mary Anderson and Dr Prishani Nansook.

Said Singh: ‘It’s been a long road balancing my private veterinary practice, research and community outreach work. This resulted in many long days for me – up to 18 hours! I look forward to overdue sleep and restful evenings. My future aspirations are to extend and grow my research in terms of animal welfare, especially with my NGO work and community outreach.’

Singh has extensive experience as a designated veterinarian at the Biomedical Resources Unit on the Westville campus, UKZN. For his PhD, he did research into toxicity that may arise from pelleted cat and dog food as result of fungal contamination – understood to be the first investigation of its kind in the South African veterinary and pet food. Most of his analytical work was conducted at the Mycotoxin Lab.

His research findings have enabled consumers to make an informed choice in their purchase of pet food in South Africa.

Raghubeer investigated the effects of a mycotoxin – Ochratoxin A (OTA) – on human kidney and liver cell lines. OTA is found in wheat, grains, fruit, meat, coffee, and even beer and wine. Her research investigated whether a naturally found antioxidant, Resveratrol, could combat the toxic effects of OTA.

This study found that OTA induced oxidative stress, protein damage, inflammation and hypoxia in human cells. Disruptions in these response pathways by the toxin could promote cancer formation and organ dysfunction. Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in certain fruit, was seen to reduce the toxicity and cellular damage caused by OTA.

‘These findings lay a foundation for us to determine how mycotoxins – toxins produced by fungi – interact with the human body,’ said Raghubeer. ‘It is especially important in determining how they affect disease outcomes, such as tuberculosis and HIV, since the immune system is compromised during these illnesses. Often poorer communities ingest greater concentrations of mycotoxins and we need to know how these toxins affect people.’

Within a collaborative research study titled: Mother and Child in the Environment (MACE) Birth Cohort, Anderson investigated the stress-responses within pregnant women exposed to ambient air pollution in Durban. The study was conducted to determine whether exposure to air pollution, such as the traffic-related NOx pollution, increased oxidative stress and endoplasmic reticulum stress in pregnant women. It further investigated whether these stress-responses influenced the incidence of adverse birth outcomes, such as pre-term birth and low birth weight.

The results of this Durban-based study showed that exposure to high levels of traffic-related air pollution increased the risk of adverse birth outcomes, thus highlighting the need to improve systems in place to reduce air pollution close to residential areas so that vulnerable individuals are better protected against oxidative and endoplasmic stress-related injury.

Said Anderson: ‘I am very proud and humbled by this accomplishment. I would like to be an example to inspire others to believe in their dreams and chase them. With belief in yourself, perseverance and hard work anything is possible.’

The study by Nansook revealed adverse effects of oxides of nitrogen, altered maternal cytokine gene expression and HIV-1-positivity on birth-outcomes in the Durban MACE birth cohort.  Novel findings included the identification of vulnerable subgroups of the population due to cytokine genetic variants that contributed to susceptibility to adverse birth outcomes in mothers exposed and unexposed to elevated levels of air pollutants in Durban.

While such data contribute to the understanding of mechanisms underlying adverse birth-outcomes it may also serve to inform proposals for amendment of legislature governing vehicle and industrial emissions.

The four scientists were supervised by Professor Anil Chuturgoon who is a prolific publisher and Medical Biochemist Researcher in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences. Dr Samantha Mary Anderson was also co-supervised by Professor Rajen Naidoo (Head of Occupational and Environmental Health in the School of Nursing and Public Health at UKZN).

Words: Lihle Sosibo