History of the Department of Chemical Pathology

Chemical Pathology was originally a subdivision of the Department of Anatomy, gaining independence in 1964. Dr LS de Villiers (son of the famous Prof LC de Villiers) was appointed as the first head of the new department. Over the years a number of medical scientists and pathologists were recruited to the department, including P Hurter, WJ Serfontein, PW Prinsloo, JL Meiring and JB Ubbink. All of them went on to become associate professors.

In the early years, departmental research focused on the determination of risk factors for atherosclerosis in order to explain the high incidence of coronary artery disease (CAD) in South Africa. Deficiency of vitamin B6, which is destroyed by modern methods of food preparation, was identified as an important risk factor. Furthermore, the researchers expressed the view that the role of cholesterol in the aetiology of CAD had been overemphasised. The Department’s position on this issue created a stir and led to a division in the area of basic CAD research with much criticism being levelled at the Pretoria approach.

When Prof de Villiers retired in 1988, he was succeeded by Prof WJH Vermaak, who had been head of department of Chemical Pathology in Bloemfontein. When Prof Vermaak joined the team a new dimension was added to departmental research with his interest in lipid metabolism leading to numerous studies of the role of lipids and apolipoproteins in the development of CAD. Research interest in vitamin B6 metabolism continued under the leadership of Prof Ubbink. When Prof Vermaak retired at the end of 2007 he was succeeded by Dr NM Oosthuizen who served as acting head until 2013.

Prof TS Pillay was appointed Head of Department in 2013. Prof Pillay is a Fellow of the Colleges of Medicine, South Africa and the Royal College of Pathologists, London. Prof Pillay also has a doctorate from Cambridge University and is one of the two most senior chemical pathologists in South Africa having previously led the Departments of Chemical Pathology at the University of Cape Town and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). There are currently only two (pre-retired)  Professors of Chemical Pathology in South Africa. Prof Pillay was also previously Deputy Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences at UKZN. 


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