Dr Liezel Smith to lead collaborative research project at MBHG supported by the National Research Foundation award

Written by Justice Ngom Ngom

Congratulations to Dr. Liezel Smith on her notable achievement of being awarded the National Research Foundation (NRF) Competitive Support for Unrated Researchers (CSUR) for the next three years. The CSUR supports research by providing once-off grants that are competitive and discipline-based. The grant aims to drive transformation consistently through supporting primarily foundational research in many disciplines, including the Natural Sciences.

Dr. Liezel Smith is a Senior Scientist for the Host-Pathogen Mycobactomics Research Group (HPM) within the Division of MBHG. Dr Smith is a dedicated researcher with a primary focus on the dynamics between host and pathogen during TB disease and progression. Her research also includes work in animal models and the innovative development of therapeutic interventions, for both communicable, and non-communicable diseases.

Dr Smith’s impactful work with the CSUR will be on Nanomedicine strategies for communicable and non-communicable brain disorders. The research aims to investigate the use of phytochemicals as a potential therapy for brain disorders, and whether the delivery of these drugs to the brain, and to specific organelles can be achieved through nanoparticles. Some of the objectives include synthesising and assessing nanoparticles for their intended function as well as experimentation on crossing the blood-brain barrier.

Dr Smith will carry out the research in collaboration with Prof Soraya Bardien, Prof Vuyo Mavumengwana and Dr Lucinda Baatjies within the Division of MBHG. Prof Bardien is the head of the Parkinson’s Disease Research Group with more than 15 years of experience working on the genetic causes of various disorders.  Prof Mavumengwana is the head of Vuyo Lab, and his research interests involve generating magnetic nanoparticles as alternative anti-TB agents and as potential drivers of host-directed therapeutic platforms. Utility and comprehensive application of photochemistry approaches are also fully explored to produce even more complex bioactive chemical scaffolds. Dr.  Baatjies is a Scientist at Vuyo Lab, whose research efforts delves into drug repurposing, aiming to discover novel applications for existing drugs approved for different indications.

Pictured from left to right: Prof Soraya Bardien, Dr. Lucinda Baatjies, Dr. Liezel Smith and Prof Vuyo Mavumengwana

The impact of this study on the community will be significant, particularly within the African context where brain disorders have been grossly understudied. As global populations, including those in Africa, are experiencing demographic shifts towards aging, there is a heightened risk of age-related neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease, as well as an increase in incidences of brain cancers such as glioblastoma. Additionally, TB meningitis (TBM), an infectious brain disorder caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis infiltration of the cerebrospinal fluid and meninges, presents a significant health challenge. While the prevalence of TBM in Africa remains largely unknown, the region’s high burden of TB suggests the potential for significant numbers of cases. Without proper treatment, TBM is typically fatal.

By focusing on the study of communicable (TBM) and non-communicable disorders (Parkinson’s disease and glioblastoma) within the South African context, this proposed project directly addresses critical health concerns prevalent in the community. The outcomes of this study are expected to bring about improved understanding, diagnosis, and potential treatment strategies for these debilitating conditions, ultimately contributing to better healthcare outcomes and quality of life for individuals in South Africa and beyond.

Congratulations once again!