Two postgraduate students from the Discipline of Biochemistry in the School of Life Sciences at UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus earned their laboratory a clean sweep in the Physiology Society of Southern Africa (PSSA) Wyndham Young Scientist competition.

The competition was part of the recent Conference of Biomedical and Natural Sciences and Therapeutics (CoBNeST) held at the Spier Estate in Stellenbosch.

PhD candidate Mr Colin Venter and Master’s candidate Mr Ntethelelo Sibisi received the first and second prizes in the competition respectively; the awards are sponsored by Axiology Labs.

Venter’s winning oral presentation was titled Myogenesis in a Dish: Investigating the Complexity of Skeletal Muscle, for which he also received a prize for Best Innovative Method, sponsored by Whitehead Scientific. Venter’s PhD research, from which he has already published two papers in international peer-reviewed journals with a third forthcoming, concerns an investigation of the roles of macrophages and fibroblasts during skeletal muscle wound repair.

Venter has focused on evaluating these relationships using a novel co-culture technique that he developed, and he explained that he hopes a better understanding of these relationships will lead to the development of better wound healing strategies. He hopes to continue his research at postdoctoral level.

Sibisi received the second prize for his oral presentation titled: Evaluating the Role of Nitric Oxide on Myoblast Proliferation, Migration and Differentiation. Sibisi’s Master’s work concerns skeletal muscle wound healing and regeneration; he is working with muscle stem cells to understand the process of skeletal muscle wound healing and regeneration by evaluating the role of nitric oxide on myoblast proliferation, migration and differentiation. He explained that the role of nitric oxide on myoblast proliferation, migration and proliferation is not clearly understood, and that he hopes to contribute to better understanding of how it achieves its effect and its mechanism of action in these processes.

Sibisi described how encountering stem cell research while in third year led him to his interest in understanding the biochemistry of stem cells in terms of signalling mechanisms. He hopes that the skills he is acquiring and the collaborations he is pursuing will stand him in good stead in industry, where he hopes to make an impact in his field.

‘They are both very hard-working young students and I am very proud of their well-deserved achievements,’ said Professor Carola Niesler, Academic Leader of Biochemistry in Pietermaritzburg.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph supplied by Carola Niesler