Prof Anton Stoltz helped develop a groundbreaking early detection TB mask: The man behind the science

Posted on February 28, 2020

Tukkievaria (TV) had a chat with Prof Anton Stoltz, Head of the Department of Internal Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences.

TV: Prof Stoltz, please share your background with us.

Prof Stoltz: My career started with my studies at the University of Pretoria (UP) in 1979 where I was doing a BSc in chemistry and biochemistry. In 1983 I completed my honours degree in biochemistry followed by my master’s degree in biochemistry. I left the research temporarily to study medicine, and while doing my MMed (Internal Medicine), I was asked to start a new field in lipid biochemistry and look at the immunological properties of mycolic acid from the cell wall of tuberculosis. I started working for the Foundation for Professional Development as Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases and was seconded back to UP and Steve Biko Academic Hospital to start an infectious disease unit. In 2010 I started as the head of this new unit with a dual appointment from UP and the Gauteng Department of Health as principal specialist. I was basically always in academia and medical research at Tuks.

 TV: Please tell us about the work you are doing now.

Prof Stoltz: Currently, I am head of the Division of Infectious Diseases. I am an internist and infectious disease subspecialist. Ten years ago, I started research collaboration with the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) and Harvard University on tuberculosis aerobiology, and I am presently managing the only natural tuberculosis airborne infection unit (AIR) in the world, situated in Mpumalanga. This AIR unit is a collaborative project with the MRC, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Harvard, and several studies have been performed over the past ten years.

I am also a medical consultant to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and UP’s tuberculosis research programmes such as nano-particle medicine and novel diagnostics in TB.

TV: When did your collaboration with Leicester University start?

Prof Stoltz: Our collaboration with Leicester University started in 2015 with a meeting between Professor Michael Barer and me. We had a PhD student (Caroline Williams) who, under our supervision, started with the mask diagnostic study in South Africa and eventually completed her studies with a publication in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. This paper describes the mask method of detecting tuberculosis at a higher sensitivity than sputum collection. We also showed that tuberculosis can be found at least six weeks earlier with the mask method than with the sputum method, which is the diagnostic method currently used. This research makes it possible to detect and treat tuberculosis earlier, preventing lung destruction in our patients and reducing infection transmission rates in the community. Furthermore, we showed that the same number of bacilli is produced during breathing as during coughing. This has huge implications for infection prevention in tuberculosis. We are now completing a study using the tuberculosis mask detection in poor communities.

TV: What are your current areas of interest?

Prof Stoltz: Currently, one of my main interests is the lung microbiome in tuberculosis and spinal tuberculosis, with two professors doing their PhD studies under my supervision. I also have MSc students investigating skin volatiles as a diagnostic marker associated with tuberculosis as well as malaria infections.

TV: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time and what do you dislike?

Prof Stoltz: I like research, teaching and meeting new people. I dislike arrogance in people. I like to exercise and am practising karate as my sport of choice under Hanshi Koos Burger from Griffins Karate Club. I love Egypt, and my favourite city in the world is Barcelona.

Jimmy Masombuka

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