Page 146 - UCT Research Report 2011

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UCT Research Report '11
Brain Imaging
Associate Professor Ernesta Meintjes completed her undergraduate studies at the
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, and master’s and PhD degrees in
Physics at Oregon State University, USA. Since July 2000, she has been employed
as a research officer and lecturer in the Department of Human Biology and in 2007
was awarded the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Brain Imaging. Her current research
focuses on magnetic resonance imaging methods development and application. She
has significant expertise in prospective motion correction and application of these
methods to study brain development in children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders
and HIV infection, and in the study of cardiac disease.
Clinical Neurosciences Research
Associate Professor Marc Combrinck is a neurologist who trained in medicine and
biochemistry at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital. He was a research
fellow at the University of Oxford before returning to South Africa in 2004. His research
interests lie in dementia, neuro-inflammation, and mechanisms of neuro-degeneration.
He continues this work in Cape Town, using clinically based observational studies of
cognitive impairment in the elderly and in HIV-associated brain disorders. In 2011, Associate
Professor Combrinck was also appointed to the prestigious William Slater Chair of Geriatric
Medicine, the first endowed chair in the subspeciality of geriatric medicine in South Africa.
Chairs associated with this theme
DNA and diagnosing brain states
Across campus, in the Faculty of Science, the Department
of Molecular and Cellular Biology is applying another
well-established animal model to find out whether the
cells in the immune system retain information of early-
life stress. This research, if successful, will have major
implications for diagnosis of cognitive and psychological
disorders in humans.
“We already know that there is a constant interaction
between the immune system and the brain. The question
is, if something happened to you as a child, how does that
then translate into behaviour in adulthood? There must be
some imprinting of that early childhood stress,” says the
department’s Professor Nicola Illing.
A study was done on mice to see whether this epigenetic
modification – imprinting of stress in the cell – could be
picked up in the circulating immune cells. Mouse pups
were separated from their mothers every day for a month
until they were weaned. Once adults, these stressed
mice were contrasted against a group that had a ‘happy
upbringing’ and it was found that the stressed mice were
indeed stressed and behaved differently to otherwise
normal mice. The immune cells from those mice were
analysed for the expression of messenger RNA transcripts
– essentially a read-out of what is expressed in the cells.