UP malaria researcher chosen to attend Laureate meeting

Posted on March 22, 2018

Dr Bianca Verlinden, a young malaria researcher at the University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC) is one of six young South African female scientists nominated by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) to attend the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany. 

She will serve as the ambassador from the University and will be supported financially by the Department of Science and Technology to attend.

The meeting will take place from 24 - 29 June 2018 and a record number of 43 Nobel Laureates are expected to attend. Some 600 young scientists were selected from 84 countries to participate in the meeting, which is dedicated to physiology and medicine.

Scientists attending are outstanding students, graduate students and postdoctoral students under 35 years of age, conducting research in the field of physiology and medicine. They were selected after a multi-stage international selection process and represent more than 200 scientific institutes, universities, foundations and research-oriented companies from research nations.

Dr Verlinden is passionate about eliminating malaria and her PhD research resulted in the discovery of novel antimalarial compounds that limit drug resistance development. Her research papers have been cited 78 times, reviewed in two books and presented at 14 international conferences. In 2016, she was chosen by the National Research Foundation as one of two excellent, young researchers to represent South Africa at the 8th HOPE meeting with Nobel Laureates in Japan, where she was the sole recipient of the prestigious HOPE Award for outstanding research excellence.

Currently a postdoctoral fellow, she said: 'As a biochemist I study the chemicals inside living things such as proteins and genes. I completed my PhD in malaria drug discovery in 2014 and I’ve been studying the malaria parasite for over nine years now and there hasn’t been a week where this parasite hasn’t surprised or challenged me.'

She became interested in malaria research because of her older brother, Jeff. 'He did his postgraduate degree in malaria research and on weekends he would bring me to the labs when he had to feed the parasites. I remember the first time I looked through the microscope and saw the parasite…I was captured! I couldn’t believe that something so small and beautiful could cause such death and devastation,' she said.

Her interest in malaria research has intensified with the statistics of the most recent World Malaria Report.  In 2016, malaria was responsible for approximately 216 million cases resulting in about 445 000 deaths. Of this, 64% were children under the age of five. 'Considering that 90% of these deaths occur on our continent I feel called as a scientist to show up, stick it out and find something that works to kill this parasite,' she said.

Clearly enthused about going to Germany, she said: 'The meeting will consist of a six-day programme with numerous lectures and panel discussions by the Nobel Laureates. We have the opportunity to apply to present our own research as young scientists at one of the master classes or at the poster session as a special opportunity, so that is very exciting! '

The UP ISMC is doing research on safer and more sustainable and innovative methods to help achieve malaria elimination. Prof Tiaan de Jager, Director of the UP ISMC said: 'We as an Institute are proud of all Dr Verlinden’s achievements and her remarkable work done on this complicated parasite which is contributing towards a malaria-free Africa.'

- Author Department of University Relations

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