Prof Steel has been working in the field of Immunology as a Medical Scientist at the University of Pretoria for 27 years. Her research interests have largely revolved around the infectious and inflammatory lung diseases. This included investigating the cation transport systems operative in Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria as potential novel targets in the development of new anti-microbial agents. This work formed the basis of her Ph.D. As an extension of this project, she spent time at Glaxo-Wellcome’s Medicines Research Centre, Stevenage, UK where she worked closely with the Therapeutics Research Committee on the mode of action of a new drug in development as well as screening a range of other drugs for their membrane-active potential.
In addition, she has been actively involved in identifying those classes of conventional antimicrobial agents which may directly target pneumolysin production by clinical isolates of Streptococcus pneumoniae. This research may prove to be of importance in the pharmacotherapy of infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, as well as for vaccine development against this common microbial pathogen.
She has also been part of a team in the Department investigating calcium-based inflammation research. Together with her colleagues, they were able to unravel the mechanisms by which Platelet Activating Factor (PAF) causes flooding of the cytosol with calcium with the ultimate objective of identifying pharmacological strategies to counteract the difficult-to-control pro-inflammatory actions of PAF.
At present, her research is focused on the persistent immune activation and inflammation associated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. She has been involved in investigating the association between smoking, immune activation and oxidative stress in relation to the emergence of HIV-1 drug resistance, viral persistence and size of the reservoir. As many HIV patients suffer from non-AIDS defining conditions such as cardiovascular disease, this study has been extended to investigate the effect of antiretroviral treatment on systemic biomarkers of platelet activation.
In 2020, she was awarded the position of Extraordinary Professor in the Department of Immunology. In addition to her responsibilities in lecturing of undergraduate students and training and supervising of postgraduate students, she also sits on the Editorial Board for Mediators of Inflammation.