The first dual PhD registration between the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Health Sciences and France’s Université Grenoble Alpes was awarded during the recent Autumn Graduation Ceremonies. Ms Elsa Nolte completed a PhD in Human Physiology at the University of Pretoria, which was jointly awarded with Université Grenoble Alpes in France’s Rhône-Alpes region.
The project was supervised by Dr Joji Mercier (UP Department of Physiology) and Prof Laurence Lafanechère (Director of Research at CNRS, Head of the team “Regulation and Pharmacology of the Cytoskeleton”, Institute for Advanced Biosciences, Grenoble, France), with the co-supervision of Prof Annie Joubert (Head of Department, UP Department of Physiology) and Prof Roy Lakier (Department of Radiation Oncology, Steve Biko Hospital, UP). Ms Nolte received the French Embassy Research Grant, which enabled her to spend a year in Grenoble, where she was hosted by Prof Lafanechère to conduct research in her laboratory.
In her thesis entitled “Pro-apoptotic and radiosensitizing potential of four candidate microtubule regulators in breast cancer cells”, Ms Nolte evaluated the potential of novel 2-methoxyestradiol analogues and a LIM kinase inhibitor to increase the sensitivity of breast cancer cells to radiation. On 20 February 2019, Ms Nolte defended her research to an approved international jury consisting of Prof Siamek Haghdoost (Professor at Hadron Radiobiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Caen Normandy, France; and Associate Professor of Radiobiology, Department of Molecular Biosciences, The Wenner-Gren Institute, Stockholm University), Prof Megan Bester (Department of Anatomy, UP) and Dr Jean-Luc Coll (Director of Research at INSERM, Head of the team "Cancer targets and experimental therapeutics", Institute for Advanced Biosciences, Grenoble, France), who also chaired the proceedings. This public defence is a requirement for the French doctorate degree, whereas a written thesis was examined by three approved examiners, as required by the University of Pretoria. The jury unanimously supported the conferral of the degree after a brief deliberation after the presentation and questioning session, which lasted approximately three hours. Ms Nolte has presented her research at several national and international conferences, and has published her research in peer-reviewed international scientific journals. This research contributes to the understanding of molecular mechanisms involved in the combination of anti-mitotic drugs and radiation to develop cost-effective cancer treatment regimens.
During their visit to the Department of Physiology (University of Pretoria), Prof Lafanechère (who has held a position of extraordinary professor in UP’s department over the past three years) and Dr Coll presented special lectures entitled “The microtubule cytoskeleton: an old validated target for novel cancer drugs” and “Optical based nanomedicines in oncology” respectively to the Faculty of Health Sciences. These events showcase the substantial fruits of an ongoing international research collaboration founded by Prof Joubert and Prof Lafanechère over 10 years ago.