Gauteng LABS – Life Sciences

Research in this particular field, in all of its aspects, has strong interaction with both the Environmental Isotope Laboratory and the Accelerator Mass Spectroscopy (AMS) unit that is currently being developed. The EIL and AMS will provide valuable research data for many aspects of the Life Sciences Research Groups.  This will be a case of the needs and developments in one aspect of the inter-relationship creating interesting fields of study in the other, thus significantly increasing the output of papers and students for both.

iThemba LABS (Gauteng) has a large number of Life Sciences research entities within a 60 km radius. It is within easy reach of other more distant universities and institutes, especially for longer-term research projects for M.Sc. and Ph.D. students under joint supervision.

Negotiations with interested researchers in the field of human medicine have already begun, and negotiations with researchers in the various Life Sciences departments are planned to begin soon. Suitable structures for, and forward planning of, the effective utilization of iThemba LABS (Gauteng) facilities will commence once needs of researchers in the fields of the Life Sciences have been identified.

This broad field of research is ripe for development. The sections dealing with AMS and EIL elaborate further on this.

Additional fields of study, student co-supervision, and potential for research exists in co-operation with the Health Physics Group. Overlap with the Health Physics Group involves, for example, radiation protection and radiation dosimetry.


Life Sciences Research Plans at iThemba (Gauteng) over the Next Five Years

In order to expand the Research and Teaching activities at iThemba LABS (Gauteng) the following are being considered as part of the 5 year strategy.

As the laboratory infrastructure is currently not conducive for any Life Science activities, basic equipment that will allow the investigation of cellular radiation damage should be installed. This includes a suitable microscope and cell culture equipment. This will allow the training of, for example, MARST students (North West University) as well as other postgraduates that seek projects in radiation biology. In particular the training of Hons, BSc and MSc students under the MARST Programme will benefit a lot from such infrastructure at iThemba LABS (Gauteng). It is yet to be decided if the MARST programme is to be carried out at iThemba LABS (Gauteng).

In the interim full use should be made of equipment and facilities at the Wits Medical School and the University of Johannesburg to promote postgraduate projects in radiation biology. Suitable collaborators must be identified and workable arrangements made with them.

Projects will be identified that can be done in collaboration with academic personnel at the Wits Medical School and Johannesburg University. For example, a Post-Doc is now due to start at Wits Medical School to investigate the influence of HIV status and radiosensitivity to cancer patients. Such a project is only possible as specialized equipment for molecular biology and co-60 gamma irradiations of human blood has been made available at Johannesburg Hospital. iThemba LABS (Gauteng) funds the Post-Doc position and makes available some running costs of these experiments.

Interactions with local radiotherapy Departments should be sought to teach clinical radiobiology to MMed (Radiotherapy) Registrars. There is no radiobiology expertise in clinical radiobiology in Gauteng and iThemba LABS radiobiologists can teach such a course in collaboration with members of the teaching hospitals.

The only active radiobiology laboratory in the country is probably Dr Slabbert’s group in iThemba (Faure). This, like Medical Physics, is a scarce skill.  Prof Debbie vd Merwe has informed iThemba LABS (Gauteng) that there is a designated radiobiology laboratory space available at the Johannesburg Hospital Radiation Oncology area, but it is not equipped at all. This could potentially be earmarked for a clinical laboratory in line with the research plan of iThemba LABS (Gauteng).

A need has been identified to develop the education and training of increased numbers of South Africans in Radiation Protection. It is planned that the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Radiation Protection course be extended to optimally benefit South Africans. It is proposed that the course content should be recognised towards an MSc by coursework and research report for fulltime SA students. The development of structured courses in radiation protection is long overdue in SA in general, and the formal training of radiation protection specialists should be pursued by a tertiary education and research entity.

All inquiries should be addressed to:
The Group Head, iThemba LABS (Gauteng), Private Bag 11, WITS 2050, South Africa.
E-mail: Dr. Simon Mullins, Tel: (+2711)3517000, Fax: (+2711)