Posted on March 08, 2019
The University of Pretoria’s Forensic Anthropology Research Centre (FARC), as coordinator for a consortium of three local universities and three EU universities, recently received a €1 million (R15.9 million) European Union grant to establish the infrastructure for and initiate a large repository of digital skeletal images.
The three-year project, titled Bakeng se Afrika (For Africa), aims to develop a comprehensive digital database of South African skeletal material to stimulate national and international research into finding solutions in the South African context. This project is the first of its kind to amalgamate a large digital archive of microfocus scanning (Micro-XCT), Lodox Statscan, CBCT scans and other modalities. The project will initially focus on South Africa, but will gradually expand to other areas. A further goal of this digital collection is to enhance global research and teaching, with UP acting as the custodian by managing and growing this collection.
While FARC has been charged with leading the project and as the coordinator for the funded “Erasmus plus Capacity Building Grant in Higher Education”, two other South African universities – Stellenbosch University and Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University – are involved as partners. This extended partnership also includes three European universities – the University of Coimbra (Portugal), the University of Bordeaux (France) and the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). The other strategic partner in the consortium is the National Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa).
Professor Anna Oettlé, from Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University’s Anatomy Department and an extraordinary lecturer in the University of Pretoria’s Anatomy Department remarked: “The project was conceptualised as a result of the increase in the number of researchers and postgraduate students interested in the 3D analysis of images for bioscience investigations. Since 2011, Necsa’s micro-XCT facility has produced a large volume of 3D scientific data on human bones, especially on skulls, notably from the skeletal collections at various South African universities. The availability of Mocro-CT facilities, together with accessable skeletal collections, has attracted researchers and postgraduate students from anatomical sciences, bio-engineering and dentistry. This makes the collection of this 3D data a very unique national asset for South Africa.”
The preliminary goals of this project include the archiving of scientific data produced from research activities at the Necsa micro-XCT facility and providing online accessbility to this data through a user-friendly management portal. In turn, this will help create strategic international partnerships, protect against loss of data and produce high-quality outputs for teaching and research.
According to Professor Ericka L’Abbé, from the University of Pretoria’s Anatomy Department: “The dissemination of this data for collaborative research and teaching will improve the internationalisation and capacity building of higher education in South Africa and in the European Union. Capacity building is achieved through the development of an online, safe and accessible database, quality assurance guidelines in research and for the advancement of skills among students and staff.”
This research is in line with the strategic focus of the Department of Higher Education and Technology, which promotes postgraduate studies and improves the qualifications of university academic staff to ensure the expansion of the academic profession and the development of high-level knowledge and skills to meet the current and future needs of South African society.
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