New Distinguished Professors announced

Newly appointed distinguished professors, (from the left) Profs Rob Warren, Gerhard Walzl and Mark Cotton, with Prof Jimmy Volmink, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences standing second from the left

New Distinguished Professors announced

Five researchers at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences recognised as Distinguished Professors by Stellenbosch University.

This is in acknowledgement of their academic excellence of international quality, their ability to motivate students and their leadership qualities. The five researchers are Profs Mark Cotton, Anneke Hesseling, Soraya Seedat, Gerhard Walzl and Rob Warren.

Eligibility criteria include: Having been appointed as a professor at SU for at least five years; continuous excellent performance over the last three years; international stature; proven exceptional performance and leadership in higher education in research and publications, postgraduate study leadership, learning and teaching, and community interaction.

Prof Mark Cotton

Cotton, who is the Director of the Children’s Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Unit (Kid-Cru) at the FMHS and the Tygerberg Children’s Hospital (TCH), is an internationally acclaimed specialist in the field of paediatric infectious diseases with extensive experience in managing HIV-infected children. He recently became the fourth researcher at the FMHS to obtain a prestigious A-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF).

He has led the Kid-Cru team in a number of randomised clinical trials in children, including two studies on antiretroviral therapy (ART) strategy and isoniazid prophylaxis and antiretroviral (ARV) pharmacokinetics in HIV-infected children. The majority of the studies he is involved with are funded through the International Maternal Paediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trial Group (IMPAACT).

He has been a member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) technical task teams on HIV staging, ART and guidelines for TB in children since 2004.

Prof Anneke Hesseling

Hesseling holds the first Chair in Paediatric TB awarded in South Africa by the South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI). She is the director of the paediatric TB research programme at the Desmond Tutu TB Centre (DTTC) in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the FMHS.

Her PhD research on BCG vaccine safety informed World Health Organisation and South African policy recommendations against vaccinating infants with known HIV infection with BCG based on the risk of serious adverse events.

Her group’s research programme has had a considerable impact on the research agenda and policy for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of TB in children, at a national and global level. Specific areas of impact include developing new treatment strategies for the prevention and treatment of TB, including drug-resistant TB, in children. 

Prof Soraya Seedat

Seedat is the Executive Head of the Department of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the Unit and Director of the MRC’s Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Unit. She has a particular interest in post-traumatic stress disorder in children and adolescents and holds the SARChI Chair in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Her research is focused on anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder more specifically. She manages a variety of research projects in different populations with anxiety disorders and with life threatening trauma exposure, including. children and adolescents; HIV-infected individuals; individuals exposed to early childhood adversity; and those with alcohol use problems. She also collaborates on research projects with researchers from Africa, USA and Europe.

During her career, Seedat has received numerous awards, local and international, for her excellent research and contributions towards her field, amongst others a Women in Sciences award; a World Federation of the Society of Biological Psychiatry-fellowship; a Lundbeck Institute fellowship in Psychiatry; a Medical Research Council mid-career award; a research fellowship from the University of California; an Anxiety Disorders Association of America career development travel award; and the Humboldt research award.

Professor Gerhard Walzl

Walzl’s research has focused on the use of host biosignatures to determine the risk for developing TB, to indicate the presence of active disease and to predict treatment outcome. He is a specialist researcher in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at the FMHS.

Walzl founded the SU’s Immunology Group 12 years ago and today still leads this dynamic and dedicated team of researchers. Their laboratory was one of the first academic, non-service labs to receive ISO15189 accreditation from the South African National Accreditation System.

The next phase of their research will be to look at whether these biomarkers can be applied on a clinical level to stratify patients into appropriate treatment arms, thereby reducing treatment time in the majority of patients, while identifying those who need longer treatment regimens or intensified follow-up due to their high risk for poor outcomes.

Professor Rob Warren

Warren is a chief specialist scientist in the MRC and a core member of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Tuberculosis Research and the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at the FMHS.

His research focuses on understanding the dynamics of both drug susceptible and drug resistant TB in South Africa using various molecular epidemiological tools.

Highlights in his career include research that demonstrated that there are thousands of different strains of TB in circulation within the South African epidemic and that patients can harbour multiple strains. Other work showed that knowledge of mutations conferring resistance can guide treatment, and his analysis of the genetic basis of drug resistance was used to determine the epidemiology of extensively drug resistant TB in South Africa and also showed the emergence of totally drug resistant TB (resistant to at least 11 drugs).

Warren’s current research focuses on the development of novel diagnostics and understanding pathogenicity using omics technologies.

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