Page 145 - UCT Research Report 2011

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Research groupings
associated with this theme
Albertina and Walter Sisulu
Institute of Ageing in Africa
The Albertina and Walter Sisulu Institute of Ageing in
Africa is a cross-disciplinary group within the Department
of Medicine in the Faculty of Health Sciences and
incorporates the divisions of Geriatric Medicine,
Geriatric Neuropsychology, Geriatric Neurosciences,
Geriatric Psychiatry, and a Gerontology programme.
The institute strives to be an academic and research
centre of excellence that addresses critical issues of
ageing in Africa, and serves as a catalyst for local,
national, and regional expertise and a focal point for
the development of research services and training.
Its mission is achieved through inter-disciplinary and
cross-national partnerships and research collaboration,
human resource development, and policy information in
the national context and on the African continent. Areas
in which research projects are currently conducted
at the institute include physical, cognitive and social
functioning, and quality of life; vascular risk factors and
stroke; falls in older persons and quality of care; and
dementia and risk factors for cognitive disorders.
Director: Dr S. Kalula
MRC/UCT Human Genetics
Research Unit
The group’s current focus is on the genetics of
colorectal cancer, inherited forms of blindness, and
neuropsychiatric diseases. Recent breakthroughs
include identifying the genetic basis of retinitis
pigmentosa and developing therapeutics to stem loss
of vision in individuals shown to carry the disease-
causing mutation. A greater effort is being put into
engaging with high throughput technologies and the
mapping of genes for common chronic disorders.
Director: Professor R. Ramesar
MRC/UCT Medical Imaging
Research Unit
The mandate of the Medical Imaging Research Unit
(MIRU) is to conduct world-class research in medical
imaging that specifically addresses the healthcare
needs of Africa. Although located in the Western Cape,
the MIRU sees itself as a national facility, with the
responsibility of providing an imaging platform that
is available to the wider research community in the
country. Its research focuses on the role of medical
imaging in addressing problems such as trauma,
cancer, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, neuromuscular
disorders, cardiovascular disease, and alcohol abuse;
all of which pose serious threats to public health
in South Africa. In addition to using established
techniques to address local healthcare needs, the
MIRU is developing novel imaging methods, in areas
such as magnetic resonance imaging, mammography,
and microscopy, which are appropriate for our national
context but that will also find application in the rest
of the world. The unit has strong collaborative links
with Western Cape hospitals, the local medical device
industry, and international institutions.
Director: Associate Professor T. Douglas
Sandy and Joe Jacobson, from Wayne State University
(USA) and Emeritus Professor Chris Molteno from
UCT, have followed the cohort closely, capturing a
rich history, including how much the mothers drank
at different stages during their pregnancy. For the
past three years, these and other children have been
scanned on numerous occasions, while doing functional
tests and the findings are yielding interesting insights
into foetal alcohol syndrome.
“We have found, for instance, that the parts of the brain
that healthy children and normal adults would use for
maths processing – a region that also handles other
functions – does not work well in children with foetal
alcohol syndrome. What we are seeing is that they use
the whole brain instead, compensating for those parts
that do not work,” says Associate Professor Meintjes.
Another study is currently being undertaken to look into
the protective effects of maternal choline (an essential
nutrient) supplementation on foetal development. It has
been shown that choline, given to pregnant rats, actually
protected the foetus. As such, a new study involving
infant imaging will test these protective attributes in
human subjects, to establish if it has significant impact
on babies born to alcoholic mothers.
brain behaviour