Research visit to Universitätsklinikum Carl Gustav Carus, Dresden, Germany
1st Feb 2017 – 2nd Apr 2017
In the image above: Travers Sagar kneeling in front of the research team at the Bone Lab Dresden in Dresden, Germany.
Osteoporosis is one of the most prevalent non-communicable diseases that affects over half of women over the age of 60, as well as a sizable portion of the elderly male population. Some of the effects of osteoporosis on the ageing population include functional loss, morbidity, the inability to lead an independent life, and an increased incidence of fractures which are extremely costly to individuals, families, and medical establishments. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa, osteoporosis leads to debilitating pain from brittle or broken bones, and its prevalence is increasing in the black South African population. The disease is usually a result of the accumulation of risk factors including genetic factors, aging, oestrogen deficiency, smoking, physical inactivity, and most importantly, malnutrition, such as calcium or vitamin D deficiencies. It has become increasingly important to attempt to prevent the development of osteoporosis and decrease its prevalence in our country.
At our own laboratories in the Cellular Bone Research group in the Department of Physiology, our research focus is the identification of novel plant-derived compounds that could be developed as nutraceuticals for the treatment of osteoporosis. The research visit was necessary in order to properly establish the techniques required for osteoblast cell experiments, which we had been struggling with for some months. These experiments are important for studying the effects of nutrition on bone physiology more holistically. The Bone Lab Dresden, in Dresden, Germany headed by Professor Lorenz Hofbauer has a good reputation internationally in the bone health discipline, which is why they were selected as the destination for the visit.
During the two month stay in Germany, I was trained and practiced in experiments involving bone-forming osteoblast cells. These experiments are time-consuming, taking up to three weeks to complete each one, requiring long hours in the laboratories, and intense focus and discipline. Some of the techniques involved in the experiments include the handling of laboratory mice, the extraction of bone marrow from the long bones of the mice, culturing cells isolated from the bone marrow, and analysing the effects of various nutritional elements on the growth and differentiation of these cells. The primary objective of the trip was to bring these techniques back to our own laboratories.
After returning to South Africa and reflecting on the overall experience, the trip was a resounding success, and has expanded the scope of our research and created new opportunities for sharing and transferring skills within the Department of Physiology and beyond. As well as learning so many valuable techniques within the laboratory, I have also grown personally and professionally, and I will always be grateful for this opportunity.
I would like to acknowledge the IRT for Food, Nutrition, and Well-being as well as the University of Pretoria Post-graduate Study Abroad Program for their generous contributions, without which this opportunity would not have been possible.
Travers Sagar, MSc Student, Department of Physiology, University of Pretoria.
Supervisor – Dr M Coetzee, UP
Co-supervisor – Prof MC Kruger, Massey University, New Zealand
- Author Travers Sagar, MSc Student, Department of Physiology, University of Pretoria.