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FLAIR Fellowships a boost for three UKZN researchers

Dr Clinton Veale from the School of Chemistry and Physics, Dr Jaclyn Mann from the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences (SLMMS), and Dr Samuel Iwarere from the School of Engineering are among 30 early career researchers in Africa to receive support from the Future Leaders - African Independent Research (FLAIR) programme to develop independent research careers in African institutions and ultimately lead their own research groups.

The FLAIR Fellowships, being awarded for the second time, are a partnership between the African Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund, and support talented African researchers for two years to undertake cutting-edge scientific research that will address global challenges facing developing countries. The Fellowships, worth £300 000 (US$391 500) each, are part of an effort to grow and retain scientific talent in Africa to improve the continent's scientific output and sustainable development.

Selected from a pool of more than 700 applicants, the 2020 FLAIR Fellowship cohort conducts diverse research in a wide range of areas of particular relevance for Africa, from sustainable agriculture to health to clean energy storage and more. Researchers are drawn from diverse African countries including Sudan, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Cameroon, Uganda, South Africa and Ghana.

Veale, a senior lecturer and researcher in organic chemistry, received the Fellowship for a project that will develop mass spectrometry-based models of key Protein-Protein Interactions (PPIs) as novel targets for neglected diseases. This research forms part of a UKZN flagship project working in collaboration with KRISP, Rhodes University and the University of Edinburgh.

"This technology will allow us to efficiently identify inhibitors of these targets in the search for new medicines for unmet drug needs," said Veale. "We are currently exploring the PPI between the chaperone HSP90 and co-chaperone HOP as a target for triple-negative breast cancer, a disease that disproportionally affects women of sub-Saharan African origin and currently has no targeted therapy."

Veale received his MSc in medicinal and biological chemistry from the University of Edinburgh, followed by his PhD in chemistry from Rhodes University, joining UKZN in 2018 where he has focused on the application of synthetic organic and biophysical chemistry methods for the design of biologically active compounds.

Mann, a senior lecturer and researcher in the SLMMS, who is also a faculty member of the HIV Pathogenesis Programme and senior researcher and supervisor in the Sub Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence, will explore the issue of cells that act as HIV reservoirs but are unaffected by antiretroviral treatment, presenting a barrier to curing HIV through this therapy. By investigating the currently unclear mechanism by which these reservoirs endure treatment in a dormant or slowly mutating state, Mann hopes to inform future cure strategies.

Mann, who completed all her studies and training at UKZN and joined the university as a senior lecturer in 2013, said she was honoured to be awarded the fellowship.

Iwarere, a researcher in Chemical Engineering, is working on research which seeks to harness the power of non-thermal plasma, an emerging water treatment technology, to develop an innovative low-cost water purification module suitable for low-income communities to combat the challenge of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa drinking from untreated water sources.

Iwarere, who completed his master's, PhD and postdoctoral research at UKZN, completed his undergraduate and honour's degrees in Industrial Chemistry at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria.

"It was the most intense funding process that I have engaged in to date," said Iwarere. "It is a great honour to receive international recognition for my research effort among stiff competition, and I am most grateful to God for His grace, and to my colleagues who assisted with comments and feedback on my proposal during my application and interview preparation."

Enquiries:

Dr Clinton Veale E-mail: VealeC[email protected] Phone: 0844564321 Web: http://scp.ukzn.ac.za/Schoolleadershipandstaff2/Clinton_Veale.aspx

Dr Jaclyn Mann E-mail: [email protected] Web: http://hpp.ukzn.ac.za/OurPeople/Faculty.aspx

Dr Samuel Iwarere E-mail: [email protected] Phone: 0799113590 Web: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Samuel_Iwarere