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Head of Division: Professor Peter Meissner

Divisional Research Profile

The Division of Medical Biochemistry is a preclinical, basic science division in the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences and is associated, either wholly or partly, with a number of advanced research entities. Some such entities are laboratory research groups contained entirely within Division, while some have certain components or personnel falling within the Division, affiliated to other Institutes or Departmental groupings.

Specifically: The Division incorporates the MRC/UCT Research Group for Receptor Biology (reviewed favourably during 2010 and co-directed by A/Prof Arieh Katz and Dr Colleeen Flanagan, ex-UCT now at WITS, and collaboratively by Medical Biochemistry affiliate Prof Bob Millar in Edinburgh); the MRC/UCT Oesophageal Cancer Research Group (directed by Prof Iqbal Parker); members of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IIDMM) at UCT (Profs Sturrock, Blackburn, Meissner, Parker, Katz and Dr Leaner); and the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) (Prof Iqbal Parker).

Through 2010 there were 44 research postgraduate students registered for either Masters or PhD, and a further 9 Honours students were based wholly in Medical Biochemistry for the duration of their research projects (April – November). The Division graduated 1 PhD and 2 MSc  during the course of 2010. Together with various scientific and academic staff our postgraduate students and 12 postdoctoral fellows continued to form the basis of a vibrant and on-going research thrust and culture in the Division, forming the core of our Divisional research strategy – out of which flows a contemporary and effective approach to teaching at both under- and post-graduate levels. During 2010 the Division and its’ affiliates published 30 papers in ISI accredited science journals. Research activities of the Division cover seven major areas:

GnRH receptors, signalling, structure – function and as a target for development of therapeutics for treatment of reproductive cancers (Katz lab, and affiliated Millar labs);

Molecular mechanisms of cervical cancer and oesophageal cancer development and progression (Leaner, Hendricks and Parker labs)

Identification and characterisation of anticancer drugs in natural products (Hendricks lab);

Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) structure activity relationships and development of ACE inhibitors (drug design) for treatment of hypertension, congestive heart failure, myocardial infarction and renal disease (Sturrock lab);

Application of functional proteomics for diagnostics, drug and vaccine development for infectious disease and cancers (Blackburn lab).

Diagnostic, structure and function studies in the porphyrias and haem biosynthesis (Meissner lab – currently sited and staffed in the Dept. of Medicine)

Structural basis for differential regulation of glutamine synthetase in humans and the malaria parasite, structural studies on the nitrilase family of enzymes in the context of cancer, mycothiol synthetic pathway in Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Sewell lab- currently located on UCT upper campus)

The anticipated move of the UCT Porphyrin and Porphyria research laboratories from their historical home in the Department of Medicine to Medical Biochemistry did not take place during 2010 as suitable space in Falmouth Building is not established, but space has been established for the Sewell protein lab.

Research staff members, fellows, postgrad students participated in many local and international conferences during the year. A highlight was the award of the AACR-Axel Ullrich travel award and the AACR-Scholar-in-training award to MSc student Nina Holderness (supervised by Dr Leaner) for her abstract on the role of Protein-activated kinase 3 –induced oncogenesis at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Denver, Colorado. Our Division considers such travel essential and worthwhile in that they give rise to new collaborations and maintenance of established collaborations and lab research visits.


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