Prof Annie Joubert: A remarkable academic & mentor in focus

Posted on August 16, 2023

In recognition of Women's Month, we celebrate the remarkable career of Prof Annie Joubert, a distinguished academic known for her exceptional mentorship of junior researchers and her significant contributions to research, teaching and learning. With an illustrious journey spanning over two decades, Prof Joubert has etched an indelible mark on the academic landscape.

Prof Joubert holds a PhD in Biochemistry, which she earned in 1998, along with an MSc in Biochemistry (1994) and a BSc Honors in Biochemistry (1992 cum laude), all from the University of Pretoria. She also achieved a BSc in Biochemistry and Chemistry in 1990. Her academic journey within the University's Department of Physiology began in 1998 as a senior technical assistant, eventually leading her to her current role as a Professor and the Head of the Department.

Through her work, she hopes to strengthen collaborations with industry, and national and international research collaborations.

The focus of Prof Joubert’s research is mainly breast cancer, which is one of the most common forms of the disease in women – the lifetime risk of South African women getting breast cancer is one in 27. Her research focuses specifically on:
a) the in silico design performed by computer simulation of potential anti-cancer agents;
b) the chemical synthesis thereof in liaison with a pharmaceutical company; and
c) the evaluation of these agents for improved anti-cancer treatment.

The prevalence of cancer is increasing worldwide. Globally, 14 million people are diagnosed with the disease each year, and about nine million lose their lives to it annually. According to the Cancer Association of South Africa, breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men are among the top five cancers prevalent in the country. However, according to the World Health Organisation, between 30 and 50% of all cancer cases are preventable.

The research findings of Prof Joubert’s group contribute to the use of in silico virtual screening (VS) methods to identify lead compounds that are likely to succeed in further downstream assays and screens including whole genome microarrays, as well as protein arrays, in the search for potential anti-cancer agents. Making use of in silico VS methods helps scientists to identify novel compounds that significantly lower the cost of drug development by negating the need to synthesize unnecessary compounds that could not be removed prior to screening.

Prof Joubert is also contributing to translational research that entails scientific discoveries that can be applied to improve health outcomes and health care in the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UP, thus addressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being).

She recently commenced with a leukemia research project that addresses the role of platelets in the progression of chronic myeloid leukemia, a condition that affects mostly older adults and is a type of leukemia of the haematopoietic stem cells. Her fundamental cancer research links with clinical research, further contributing to translational research with a specific benefit for South African and African populations with unique genotypic and phenotypic characteristics.

Prof Joubert’s research efforts were prompted by the passing of her father, after he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia and COVID-19 in September 2020. She says that he taught her to believe in herself and to do her part to improve the quality of life of the people that she interacts with every day. Her other role models are Prof Albert Neitz, who supervised her PhD degree, and Prof Dirk van Papendorp, previous Head of the Department of Physiology. Both academics inspired her and motivated her to go the extra mile in her career, Prof Joubert says.

Keeping in mind the life skills her father taught her, Prof Joubert dreams of touching lives and hopes to be regarded as a good mentor to students and colleagues. “I would like to be remembered for having contributed to someone’s life in a positive way, whether it is teaching undergraduates and postgraduates, or contributing to the good health and well-being of all people.”

Throughout her career, Prof Joubert has exhibited a passion for education, evident in her creation of comprehensive content for various modules, including "Bridged Organic Chemistry" and "Immunology." She designed WebCT-based and ClickUP modules, enriching students' learning experiences. Notably, she played an integral role in supervising/co-supervising and providing guidance to 53 Hons students, 30 MSc students (17 of these students were awarded their MSc degree cum laude), 14 PhD students and 4 postdoctoral fellowships. She emphasizes the importance of supporting early-career colleagues and nurturing their growth.

Prof Joubert's influence extends to research, where she has made significant contributions to the field of molecular and cellular cancer physiology. Her research on anticancer drug development has garnered international attention, resulting in over 116 peer-reviewed publications. Her collaborations span the globe, including partnerships with esteemed institutions in France, Sweden, Turkey, Belgium, Finland, the United States, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Her work has gained national and international recognition, earning her numerous research awards for her ground-breaking contributions.

In her role as an academic leader, Prof Joubert has demonstrated exceptional management skills. She has actively engaged with committees and contributed to various educational and pedagogic courses, enhancing her capabilities as an influential academic leader. Her commitment to supporting colleagues' growth and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration has further solidified her reputation.

Looking ahead, Prof Joubert envisions a future where the Department of Physiology continues to excel in both academic training and research. With a focus on mentorship, collaboration, and innovation, she aims to contribute to the betterment of society, locally and globally.

Prof Annie Joubert's journey exemplifies the profound impact that mentorship, dedication, and scholarly contributions can have on academia and society at large. Her legacy continues to inspire and pave the way for aspiring academics and researchers.

- Author Sindisiwe Kubeka

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