The Department of Anatomy focuses on three main areas of research:

  • Histology and Cell Biology
  • Clinical Anatomy, and
  • Physical Anthropology


Histology and Cell Biology

Honey as a wound healing product and functional food.

Wound healing is a complex process involving inflammation, cellular proliferation, remodelling and contraction. In chronic wounds this normal process is disrupted and/or inhibited. Strategies for the treatment of chronic wounds are to eradicate infection and then to stimulate cellular regrowth. A well characterised treatment option is the use of products such as UMF® 25+ (Comvita®) honey with potent anti-bacterial activity against many wound-associated pathogens including methicillin-resistant Staphylocous aureus. This activity and that present in other similar honey types are due to the presence of polyphenolics, methylglyoxal, H2O2 and/or bee defensin, an antimicrobial peptide.


UMF® 25+ (Comvita®), manuka honey is derived from Leptospermum scoparium indigenous to New Zealand. Southern Africa has a well described floral biodiversity with the possibility of an indigenous honey type being discovered with similar or greater wound healing properties than manuka honey. Honey is also a functional food and the effects of digestion on bio-activity, bio-availability and the structure and function of the bio-active constituent molecules is also being investigated.  The purpose of our research is to identify honeys from the southern Africa region that have high levels of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial activity. As a wound healing product or a functional food quantify and identify the bio-active constituent’s molecules and peptides that contribute to activity. The techniques and methodologies developed are being used in collaboration studies to investigate the properties of bio-active antimicrobial peptides, plants, functional foods and products.  

Contact person:
Prof MJ Bester


Combinational effects of heavy metal exposure

Daily we are exposed to heavy metals such as mercury (Hg), cobalt (Co), chrome (Cr), copper, lead (Pb), manganese, cadmium (Cd) and nickel (Ni). Exposure is due to agricultural, transport, industrial and mining activities. Informal communities that live close to mines and/or highly industrialised areas are the most vulnerable, as the water usually from nearby rivers used for drinking, cooking and washing is often polluted with heavy metals. In addition, food sources such as crops, livestock and fish bio-accumulates many of these heavy metals. Within this population, children and pregnant woman and their babies are the most vulnerable. Exposure is usually not limited to a single metal but rather combinations of metals at subtoxic levels.


The oxidative effects of certain heavy metals such as Pb, Cd and Hg have been well described and effects is either due to direct lipid peroxidation, carbonylation of protein or the depletion of antioxidant elements such as glutathionine. This oxidative damage has been found to cause neurological damage and is associated with development of diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The focus of our research is to investigate impact of combinational exposure to these metals on processes such as blood coagulation, tissue and cellular structure of different organ systems using in vitro cell culture systems and animal models.  This includes the impact on protein expression and biochemical pathways required for normal tissue and cell functioning. In addition the effect of dietary polyphenolics on the inhibition of heavy metal induced oxidative damage is also being investigated. 

Contact person:
Prof HM Oberholzer


Clinical Anatomy

Clinical anatomy forms the basis of medical practice and is usually defined as anatomy applied to patient care. Anatomy forms the basis of the physical examination of patients as well as the performance of several invasive procedures. These include, amongst others, surgical emergency and imaging procedures. New surgical innovations need a detailed anatomical knowledge in order to avoid complications. Furthermore, new imaging modalities are becoming more and more important to assist clinicians during diagnostic and therapeutic aspects of patient care.

Research in the field focuses on mapping out the relevant anatomy to perform various invasive procedures such as minimally invasive techniques, modern imaging techniques, and intervention radiological procedures. Safe and successful performance strongly relies on a sound anatomical foundation in order to avoid various complications. Modern imaging modalities are becoming more and more important to assist clinicians during diagnostic and therapeutic aspects of patient care. This includes magnetic resonance imaging and angiography, endoscopy, dynamic ultrasound and virtual imaging modalities.

Research is done in collaboration with specialist clinicians in the fields of Medicine, Regional Anesthesiology and various specialist ramifications of General Surgery. Studies are either cadaver-based, assisted with microscopic techniques, image-based or patient-based, but usually involve a combination of these.

Results of our research find their immediate application in clinical medicine and are incorporated into various specialist continued medical training programmes assisted by procedures simulation unit.

Contact person
Prof A-N van Schoor


Physical Anthropology

All research of the section falls under the umbrella of the Forensic Anthropoloy Research Centre.

Contact person
Prof EN L' Abbé



Published by Marinda Pretorius

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