Prestigious Emerging Researchers Award for UKZN Academic

UKZN senior lecturer and researcher Dr Andile Khathi has received the National Research Foundation (NRF) Research Excellence Award for Early Career / Emerging Researchers in the Life Sciences.

The presentation was made to Khathi during the NRF Awards ceremony at the Century City Conference Centre in Cape Town.

The NRF makes the award – which includes R50 000 to be used for research-related activities – in the interests of developing and enhancing the stature of early career/emerging researchers and individuals with disabilities. Part of the rationale is to inspire new and emerging researchers to be high achievers and give them the experience of what it takes to become a recognised scholar, as part of the transformation agenda.

Generally, the prestigious NRF awards honour the country’s leading scientists and best-performing researchers, recognising excellence and achievement in knowledge creation and dissemination.

Said Khathi, ‘I’m finding it hard to believe that this is happening to me. I’m inspired to work even more so that we push the boundaries of science. I don’t consider this award my own – it belongs to our Endocrine physiology research team. We have lovely postgraduate students (past and present) who help us push boundaries and make our science better each day. I also share this award with my research partners, Dr Sethu Ngubane and Dr Ntethelelo Sibiya with whom I do most of my work. I’d like to acknowledge my colleagues in the School who always open their doors to me when I need help or advice. A special thank you goes to Professor Musa Mabandla and Professor Anil Chuturgoon for their ongoing support. Lastly, I would like to thank my family and friends. They are my biggest cheerleaders who keep me going.’

Khathi is the Academic Leader in the Discipline of Human Physiology in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences. He is the co-founder and chairperson of the Diabetes and Endocrine Research Society of South Africa and a Topic Editor for Frontiers in Endocrinology, one of the leading journals in his field. He is a Y-rated NRF researcher. To date, he has published 55 publications, one book chapter and graduated five PhD and 17 master’s students. He is currently supervising eight masters and 12 PhD students.

In 2018, Khathi created a novel animal model for diet-induced prediabetes, a condition where the blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. This model was the first in the world to achieve this without any chemical or genetic manipulation. Using this model, he has shown how complications often associated with type 2 diabetes, actually begin during the prediabetic state.

His work has further improved the understanding of how people with prediabetes are at an increased risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms and even death due to the asymptomatic nature of the disorder when compared with non-prediabetic individuals. This research was included in a World Health Organization report discussing how prediabetes should be listed as a recognised comorbidity for COVID-19. In line with this, he has designed a novel diagnostic device for the early detection of prediabetes and is currently developing a prototype.

Said Dean of Research at the College of Health Sciences Professor Anil Chuturgoon: ‘We extend our heartiest congratulations to Dr Khathi. His novel research is in the field of managing Diabetes Mellitus where he’s been at the forefront in the development of new diagnostic tools for the early diagnosis of endocrine disorders. An NRF-rated researcher, his pioneering work has been recognised nationally and internationally. We are proud of his accomplishments and wish him great success in his research endeavours.’

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Supplied