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Biotechnology in Medical Research Media Round Table

15 October 2008, Cape Town

This MRT looks at the use of biotechnology applications in addressing diseases that predominate in developing countries, such as tuberculosis (TB), HIV/AIDS and various cancers and genetic diseases. Such applications can include studying the reaction of the body's immune system to infections, the mechanisms of progression of the disease as well as the genetic basis of diseases. These research efforts will go a long way in supporting the global search for breakthroughs in the understanding of these diseases and could possibly also lead to the identification of diagnostic tools and specific drugs and vaccines.

The MRT aims to ensure that the media has a full understanding of both the science and other issues related to these biotechnology applications.

The Biotechnology in Medical Research took place on the 15 October 2008, and was held at the MRC Auditorium in Parow, Cape Town.

After a plenary introductory session, the presentations were held in parallel sessions to enable attendees to select topics of interest. Each presentation was followed by discussion time. Furthermore, one-on-one interviews were scheduled with presenters for more in depth questions

Speaker introductions

Prof Michèle Ramsay: "Is Africa ready for Genetic Predisposition Testing?"
Michèle Ramsay is head of the Molecular Genetics Laboratory in the Division of Human Genetics at the National Health Laboratory Service. The laboratory provides a diagnostic service for the molecular investigation of a large range of single gene disorders. Her research focuses on understanding the role of genetic and epigenetic factors that impact on diseases in South African populations. She will be discussing genetic testing and gene profiling for diagnosis and risk assessment of predisposition to disease. She will discuss issues around "personalized medicine" in the South African context.

Prof Michael Pepper: "Health Biotech in South Africa"
Michael Pepper is a Professor in the Unit for Advanced Studies and an Extraordinary Professor in the Department of Immunology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria. He is a member of the National Biotechnology Advisory Committee to the Minister of Science and Technology. He has worked extensively in the field of molecular cell biology and has successfully used basic scientific research to address clinically-orientated problems. He will present an overview of major health problems within South Africa, and discuss the status and potential of biotechnology in addressing these problems.

Prof Rob Warren: "Biotechnology and the diagnosis of TB"
Rob Warren, Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Biochemistry at the University of Stellenbosch, has registered five patents which hold promise for the development of novel vaccines, new diagnostics and genetic manipulation of M. tuberculosis (the bacterium that causes TB). His work covers the areas of drug resistance, bacterial evolution and study on molecular levels of how genetic and environmental factors influence disease. He will discuss biotechnology in addressing drug resistance in TB, and also show how biotechnology is developing in other areas of TB research.

Dr Lynn Katsoulis: "The Role of Clinical Trials in Biotechnology in Medical Research"
Dr Katsoulis is the Chairperson of the South African Clinical Research Association and currently manages the South African office of Cato Research, an international Contract Research Organisation. She has worked on scientific aspects of developing many drugs, has been the regulatory contact for numerous projects in South Africa, and has project managed many clinical trials. She will be discussing the role and regulations of clinical trials in biotechnology applications in medical research.

Dr Thomas Scriba: "Developing new TB vaccines in Cape Town"
Dr Scriba conducts clinical research on the development and testing of new tuberculosis (TB) vaccines at the South Africa Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative. Their research is aimed at understanding immunity to TB and how this immunity can be manipulated through vaccination to be more effective against TB. He is co-investigator on the clinical human trials of a new TB vaccine and is responsible for the scientific oversight of these trials. He will be discussing this new genetically-engineered vaccine and new developments in understanding immunity to TB.

Dr Adrienne Edkins: "Cancer Stem Cells: The Hidden Villain. New Approach to Cancer Therapy"
Adrienne Edkins is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Chaperone Research Laboratory, at Rhodes University headed by Professor Gregory Blatch, where she conducts research on novel anti-cancer agents. Their work falls within the broad field of biomedical biotechnology, with a focus on the role of chaperones (a specific type of protein) during the establishment, survival and metastasis of tumours. She will present on biotechnology in cancer research, and the recent discoveries that have changed the way of thinking in approaching the treatment of cancer.

If you would like to receive more information, please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Young Science Communicators Writing Initiative:

In an initiative to offer a platform to exercise skills in science communication, PUB commissioned a group of young scientists to write popular articles on various topics relating to biotechnology applications. Read their on articles on topics including sustainable energy, aquaculture, palaeogenomics, and more... Click here to view.

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Press release

Shedding Light on Human Genetic Diversity

A paper detailing the the Southern African Genome Sequencing Project and its results was published in the journal Nature.

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