Professor Tahir Pillay

Professor Tahir Pillay completed his undergraduate studies at the former University of Natal and has been doing research at the University of Pretoria (UP) for eight years.

Together with his research team, Prof Pillay is developing new, cheaper diagnostic tests for faster, more efficient prevention and diagnosis of communicable and non-communicable disease. His dream for his research work is to develop an innovative diagnostic test that will be used globally.
Prof Pillay adds that his research matters because better and cheaper tests will give patients greater power over their health. “It is called participatory medicine,” he says, adding that if the public had access to affordable diagnostic tests, they could monitor their health more closely, and improve longevity and well-being.

Prof Pillay is also leading cross-faculty research in collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT) at UP to develop diagnostic biosensors using nanobodies. He leads the group that is developing nanobodies against proteins that are useful in diagnosis, including SARS-CoV-2 and glycated proteins in diabetes. These are small, single-chain antibodies that are relatively cheap to produce.
In research that was initiated in 2020, the group produced nanobodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that are used for point-of-care tests, biosensors and as potential COVID-19 treatment. “We received first prize in the 2020 Technology Innovation competition run by Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and Emory University.”

Prof Pillay says his time at Cambridge University as a PhD student where he encountered Nobel laureates such as Argentinian biochemist and immunologist César Milstein and South African biologist Sydney Brenner has inspired him in his research effort. His academic role model is Belgian scientist Dr Serge Muyldermans, one of the co-discoverers of nanobodies. “I admire his work and his personality, and appreciated the chance to get to know him at a personal level as well.”

Prof Pillay reminds school learners and undergraduates who are interested in his field that failure is a stepping stone to success, that it drives innovation, and to accept it and learn from it.

His hobbies include making house music – he has released several albums internationally. He also enjoys skiing, swimming and writing medical thriller novels.

Research by Professor Tahir Pillay

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