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Young UKZN academic leaders meet Nobel Laureates in Japan

Academic leaders in the College of Health Sciences Professor Verusia Chetty and Dr Tivani Mashamba-Thompson were selected by the National Research Foundation (NRF) as the two South Africans to attend the prestigious 11th HOPE meeting in Okinawa, Japan.

The duo each delivered scientific presentations on 'Science and Society', with Mashamba-Thompson's group winning the group presentation award.

HOPE meetings provide opportunities for high-achiever emerging and young scientists in selected countries in the Asia-Pacific and Africa regions to engage with Nobel Laureates and other distinguished scientists pioneering frontiers of knowledge in science and technology. Young scientists are brought together in the hope that the experience will inspire and motivate them to become excellent in their field and encourage them to shoulder the future of science and technology in their regions.

Participants at the meeting in Japan included young researchers from institutions in Japan, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Chetty and Mashamba-Thompson were among four African scientists chosen to represent the continent.

Six Nobel Laureates presented at the meeting. They were Hiroshi Amano, Nobel Laureate in Physics 2014; Takaaki Kajita, Nobel Laureate in Physics 2015; Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 2004; Ada Yonath, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 2009; Ben L Feringa, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 2016; and Tim Hunt, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 2001.

Chetty and Mashamba-Thompson presented their research in the areas of public health, involving HIV and disability as well as the role of diagnostics in the implementation of precision medicine in resource-limited settings. Going forward, the two academic leaders will collaborate with the African fellows who attended the meeting in Japan, with a view to hosting a similar event in Africa.

Said Chetty: "As a scientist, I now understand that good science takes time to develop. Globally, scientists feel similar pressure to those we face in Africa. I was able to see that resource constraints are global and even emerging geniuses have similar issues to ours in Africa. I was also able to understand that perseverance in discovery is imperative and, to make a mark in your field, you need to push past the many hurdles with sheer determination."

Mashamba-Thompson commented: "As a multidisciplinary trained scientist, I was delighted to see a state-of-the-art multidisciplinary (engineering, pathology and pharmacology) laboratory at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University. This laboratory focused on research and development of tools which address critical medical needs. As we continue to experience major health challenges in our settings, there is a need for more investment in multidisciplinary labs and curriculum for the development of future scientists."

Words: Ndabaonline