Read time: 3 minutes

UKZN scientists make it onto African Academy of Science's top 40 list

High-impact researcher in UKZN's College of Health Sciences, Dr Veron Ramsuran, as well as UKZN's honorary senior lecturer, Dr Lenine Liebenberg, have been selected as Affiliate members of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS). The 40 early career scientists drawn from 19 countries across the five African regions will receive training and mentorship over a five-year period. Only four scientists were selected from South Africa for this prestigious programme, with two from UKZN and a third who is an alumnus of UKZN.

Ramsuran was ecstatic to receive the news: "It was a highly competitive process, with more than 300 applicants from around Africa. Only four from South Africa were selected, two of us are from UKZN! It is extremely commendable to observe how well UKZN did in this highly competitive and prestigious programme."

Ramsuran graduated with a PhD from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he examined host factors associating with the HIV disease. He spent almost 70% of his PhD in two international laboratories, including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. After completion of his PhD, he was recruited to join the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard as a postdoctoral research fellow. After completing five years in these institutes, Ramsuran returned to South Africa and to UKZN. He is a UK Royal Society Future Leader African Independent Research (FLAIR) Fellow, Group Leader at KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), Associate Scientist at Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and a guest researcher at the National Cancer Institute at NIH. He has also been the recipient of numerous honours and awards and serves as an editor on two leading international immunology journals.

Ramsuran's work is on examining the effect host genetics play on the HIV and TB diseases. He has a special interest in examining the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes, the epicentre of disease associations across the human genome, as determined by genome wide association studies. His recent work examines the effect of differential HLA expression levels on the HIV and TB diseases. He is also interested in factors contributing to the differential HLA expression.

Liebenberg is based as a scientist at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) Mucosal Immunology Laboratory. She is also a Future Leaders - African Independent Researcher (FLAIR) Fellow. Liebenberg's combined training in medical virology, microbiology, genetics and immunology direct the scope of her research in understanding immune responses at the human genital mucosa. She has documented methods to improve genital cell isolation from men and women, methods to facilitate genital cellular immune responses in multicentre studies, and has characterised genital and systemic immune factors that facilitate HIV infection, viral shedding and HIV transmission. Her research has highlighted the role of poor female genital health in enhancing HIV acquisition and focuses on understanding the causes of genital inflammation and the mechanism of its association with HIV acquisition to inform on the design of effective interventions that prevent HIV infection in women.

By recognising emerging scientists who demonstrate excellence in their work, the AAS seeks to create a platform through which younger researchers are motivated to pursue a rewarding career in science. Ultimately, the Affiliates programme seeks to produce all-rounded scientists embodying the AAS values of excellence, empathy, diversity and integrity.