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(Including the MRC/UCT Human Genetics Research Unit and CANSA’s National Colorectal Cancer Research Consortium)

Head of Division: Professor Raj S. Ramesar

Divisional Profile

The Division is unusual in that it conducts its business through three interacting ‘institutions’;

  1. an extensive clinical service through the Provincial Government of the Western Cape;
  1. its laboratory diagnostic services through the National Health Laboratory Services, and
  1. its academic (research and teaching) activities through the University.

The UCT/MRC Human Genetics Research Unit was created while the Human Genome Project was underway.  The mandate for this Unit was (i) primarily one of capacity development in the field of Genetics and Genomics, (ii) understanding the relevance of developments in genetics and genomics, as they may be applicable to South Africans, and (iii) the translation of research to the clinical environment. 

An emphasis of this Unit is the investment in understanding the rich Human Diversity on our continent and relating this to disease and health.  In this regard there has been a head-on engagement with state of the art high-throughput genetic studies of indigenous southern African population populations, which has resulted in the empowerment and capacity development of South African researchers in large scale data handling and analysis.  This and other projects involve fruitful collaborations with other Unit directors, such as Professor Himla Soodyall, and colleagues in bioinformatics in the National Bioinformatics node at UCT. 

A further investment has been in taking genetics to the ‘clinical’ high street.  A measure of relevance and success of the Unit in this regard, is its attraction to other mainstream clinical practitioners e.g. from the disciplines of Gastroenterology, Nephrology, Internal Medicine, Psychiatry, Surgery, and Dentistry (UWC) who are completing PhDs in genetics, in this Unit.  A substantial effort has been made into introducing genetics/genomics into the undergraduate MBChB curriculum and to specialist groups.  

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