Monthly Archives: August 2021

Potential new drug reduces cancer-treatment side effects

by Carl Belger

Doxorubicin or DOX is an anti-cancer drug currently used to treat a variety of cancers. However, one of its common side effects is cardiotoxicity or damage to the heart. This is caused by heart cells dying during treatment and is commonly known as DOX-induced cardiotoxicity. Patients treated with DOX can experience heart disfunction anytime from a few hours after treatment to years later. DOX-induced cardiotoxicity has prompted the search for supplementary cardioprotective agents which could prevent heart damage and minimize side effects.

Please welcome to the stage: Sphingosine-1-phosphate AKA S1P. In a paper by Miguel Frias et al., it was successfully shown that S1P administered before DOX treatment caused fewer cells to die. But how exactly was this done, and, more importantly, can we trust the results? As usual with science, the answer is yes but also no.

Firstly, the researchers in this paper used cell culture experiments; essentially, they treated cells in a plastic dish with different reagents and measured how many cells lived and died. For this paper they used a type of heart cells called cardiomyocytes. The cardiomyocytes were treated with S1P, DOX, both, or neither and cell death was measured through something known as caspase3 activity. Caspase3 is an enzyme that is upregulated in cells undergoing cell death. 

As you can see from the figure above, adding increased concentrations of S1P, progressively decreased the amount of cell death caused by DOX. This figure along with many others in the paper gave strong evidence for the cardioprotective qualities of S1P.

However, there are some important limitations to this paper. Firstly, and most obviously, cells in a dish do not accurately represent the human body and its complex functions; S1P may have a completely different affect in vivo. In addition to this, these experiments ignored one important factor related to DOX-induced cardiotoxicity: cancer. Patients who receive S1P and DOX will do so because they have cancer. Thus, it is important to recognize that their bodies will be affected by this. Perhaps further experiments could be performed on cardiomyocytes in a cancer environment to see if this affects the protective characteristics of S1P.

Overall this paper shed light on a potential drug that could help millions of cancer patients around the world. However, it is vital that we confirm its protective potential before we implement it as a common treatment.


Frias, Miguel A, Ursula Lang, Christine Gerber-Wicht, and Richard W James. 2010. “Native and Reconstituted HDL Protect Cardiomyocytes from Doxorubicin-Induced Apoptosis.” Cardiovascular Research 85 (1): 118–26.

A Sacrifice Potentially Worth Making

by Kili James

I’m tired. I’m drained. I’m cold. And, my eyes are sore.

These are some feelings I have at the end of my examination period of 2021.

The same feelings I have as I head towards the end of my second year of online learning.

Online learning; I always knew was the way of the future.

It allowed for more people to be educated.

To bridge the gap of inequality between the educated and the unfortunate.

And for this, I agree.  

But I never really thought that the reason why I would do online learning,

Would be

Because of a pandemic

That swept across the globe like wildfire.

A pandemic where inequality is still rife.

Whilst other countries go back to normal.

And our country?

All we do is celebrate small wins like being able to go out for cocktails on a Thursday.

Online learning is difficult.

It always has been and it always will be.

As I look back at the past two years in which I have sat behind my desk,

With no classmates or friends around me.

I look back on how hard I have worked

Because I haven’t had anything else to do. Or anyone to see.

I have worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 2 years.

And I am tired.

The hours are long, I know.

Everybody I know, knows.

The only issue is that there is hardly any comfort in knowing there is someone else awake at 3 o’clock in the morning too.

Yet, I am extremely grateful for the education and opportunities I have received.

I am thankful for the university and the lecturers who have taught me.

I have learnt incredible things.

I have engaged with intelligent people.

And, I have seized every opportunity which was given to me.

The only sad thing is that I have done it behind a computer screen,

Behind a mask,

Or a sheet of plexiglass.

We have missed important milestones.

Like graduations, birthdays, and parties.

And although hard at the time,

A sacrifice potentially worth making.

For a new life, similar to our old one.

Possibly a sense of normalcy?

Although I cannot imagine a life anymore,

Without being drowned by sanitizer,

Without the shield of anonymity, we call a mask,

Or without the constant fogged up glasses which I have gotten used to.

But to get back to the way life was?

It is a sacrifice potentially worth making.

But until then, online school it is.

And until then, I will be tired, I will be drained, I will be cold and my eyes will be sore.

But to me, it is a sacrifice potentially worth making.

We live and we learn

by Upendra Naidoo

I had long thought that 2020 was the worst year I could have experienced given the start of a global pandemic, but along came 2021. It’s no secret that I found my undergraduate degree challenging. It was filled with loss, growth, a search of identity and at the tail end a steep learning curve in the form of online learning. Regardless, I am proud of what I accomplished, but this year has been something else…

Education and the pursuit of knowledge have always been passions of mine. I always thought of myself as an under-achieving over-achiever. The paradoxical nature somehow worked for me yet being an honours student in 2021 came with its own unique challenges which had made me question everything. Juggling coursework, a research project, errands, a personal life, and my mental health initially had me in a tizzy. It was at the start of this year did I truly realise how terrible my time management skills were when left to my own devices. I craved structure and needed to make a change or else I would burn out and lose out on a one in a lifetime opportunity. It may sound like an exaggeration, but I assure you it is not. There were mornings when I questioned life and dreamt of the sweet release of death. I would eventually wake and get on with my day, pushing those dark thoughts aside.

The mind is indeed a powerful thing, but I chose not to wallow in self-pity and defeat. Instead, I was able to make a change, to focus, improve my time management skills and become a better independent learner. It definitely was not easy, and sacrifices were made. Those sacrifices took the form of little to no socialising and cutting down on sleep to ensure adequate preparation to fulfil academic commitments. Perhaps another person would be able to handle it all, but I’m grateful I finally found what works for me without endangering the achievement of my goals.

Given this change for the better, I was able to enjoy and engage with the material being taught. My passion had returned as well as a renewed sense of purpose. Specialising in radiobiology was not just to understand more about the disease that claimed the lives of a few loved ones, but to be a positive influence on the world. To share my knowledge with all those I encounter. Hopefully the rest of the year goes smoothly, with opportunities to study further as I continue to live and learn.

Functional MRI in pre-surgical language mapping in epilepsy patients

by Motshidisi Matela

Can you take quick guess which neurological disease is most prevalent in the world? If you guessed epilepsy, you are correct. Epilepsy is a condition in which one experiences recurrent and unprovoked seizures, it affects 50 million people worldwide both males and females of all races, ethnic backgrounds, and ages. Epileptic patients must take medication to help with their seizures, however 30 % of these patients develop drug resistant epilepsy (DRE) and only 60% of DRE patients respond to surgery. Many people can unfortunately suffer from cognition impairments because of epilepsy.

While surgery seemed to be the light at the end of the tunnel for patients with DRE, it seems the light might not last for long as many patients develop speech impairments because of resections performed during surgery to remove the epileptic regions of the brain.  To operate effectively, areas of the brain that are necessary for language formation and comprehension must be identified so that they are spared during surgery. This can be accomplished by with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI). This technique uses blood oxygen dependent levels (BOLD) contrast to measure oxygen changes within the brain in response to different tasks.

UCT researchers had then set out to investigate how fMRI could be used as an effective method for preoperative language mapping. This can help maximize resections of epileptic regions while minimizing impairments.

To see which brain regions are responsible for language, Ives-Deliperi et al performed blocked tasks in which patients were subjected to a stimulus at active to activate the brain regions, while at rest no stimulus was given.

Fig. 1. Functional mapping blocked paradigm.

The authors used different methods to map areas that responsible for comprehension of language and those responsible for expressive of language.

The results were good areas that are involved in both receptive and expressive language were not only localized meaning which part of the brain region is responsible for the activity, but also lateralized meaning can be seen in which brain hemisphere are these regions located. The bold signal increased with activation of these regions.

Fig. 3. BOLD signal increase produced in the group analysis of the verb generation task showing activation in left posterior inferior frontal gyrus (Broca’s area) and left superior temporal gyrus (Wernicke’s area).

Fig. 4. BOLD signal increases produced in the group analysis of the passive listening task in the superior temporal lobes bilaterally (Wernicke’s area).

The preservation of neurological function in epileptic patients during surgery is key to successful treatment. The success of this technique may have positive treatment implications for other neurological diseases as well, including traumatic brain injury and brain infection diseases. In simple words performing fMRI before surgery might keep the light at the end of the tunnel for patients with DRE.


1.            Ives-Deliperi, V. L.;  Butler, J. T.; Meintjes, E. M., Functional MRI language mapping in pre-surgical epilepsy patients: findings from a series of patients in the Epilepsy Unit at Mediclinic Constantiaberg. South African medical journal = Suid-Afrikaanse tydskrif vir geneeskunde 2013, 103 (8), 563-7.

Cervical Cancer

by Talia Gabay

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer globally. This is largely attributed to the oncoproteins E6 and E7, which are produced by the body following infection and integration into the human DNA by a high-risk strain of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). These oncoproteins, can lead to tumour formation and progression,and are therefore considered viral bullies that wreak havoc in our bodies and ultimately cause issues where there would otherwise not be any. A tremendous amount of research has been conducted on the role of these oncoproteins and data points to their course of action in cervical cancer development. Like looking at a connect the dots picture, each dot symbolizes a protein interaction, pathway modulation or function  that E6 and E7 are involved in to drive cervical cancer progression. To make sense of how these proteins initiate and maintain the cancerous phenotype, the dots must be connected. This review by Vats et al. aims to do just that.

The authors firstly highlight the known biochemical interactions between cellular proteins in an attempt to make connections between the various processes. However, this also identified the critical information about E6 and E7 that remains elusive. Cell cycle dysregulation, epigenetics, cancer maintenance, telomerase activation and involvement in all hallmarks of cancer were amongst the key processes discussed by this review to illustrate what is known about the regulatory role of E6 and E7. Indeed, these proteins disrupt cellular normality, leading to the development and maintenance of malignant cervical lesions. However, as a biochemical process is uncovered, its significance or contribution to tumour formation must then be determined. It is not only about which process is occurring but also where, how and why it is happening that is significant. It is interesting how the gaps link back to the viral life cycle and how E6 and E7 activate processes that are not needed by this cycle directly but drive tumorigenesis. Could this result from off-target mistakes? It seems that the closer we look the less we see. However, the more we know about the functionality of E6 and E7, the better equipped we will be to provide the information needed to treat and even prevent cervical cancer by disrupting the protein sidekicks that allow E6 and E7 to carry out their mission of malignant transformation.

Figure 1: An illustration of what is known and still remains elusive about the rosed E6 and E7 play in cervical cancer. This image combined figures from both Mittal and Banks as well as Vats et al to produce the overall map of the processes each oncoprotein is involved in, what they both are involved in, as well as what remains unknown. All that is unknown is illustrated in a red box. If the viral life cycle is involved, this is further highlighted red.  Yellow usually means that it is related to E6 alone. Purple usually means it relates to E7 alone. However, both E6 and E7 are involved in interferon signaling. Red question marks mean the links have yet to be made or that there are gaps in our knowledge.


Mittal, S. & Banks, L. 2017. Molecular mechanisms underlying human papillomavirus E6 and E7 oncoprotein-induced cell transformation. Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research. 772:23-35. DOI: 10.1016/j.mrrev.2016.08.001.

Vats, A., Trejo-Cerro, O., Thomas, M. & Banks, L. (2021). Human papillomavirus E6 and E7: What remains? Tumour Virus Research. 11:200213. DOI: 10.1016/j.tvr.2021.200213.

Hybrid Learning: A New Challenge in 2021

by Averil Bauer-Kong

In 2020, media and day-to-day conversation was dominated by a common theme- the lifestyle adjustment to at-home isolation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the major adjustments for parents, teachers, and students globally was the transition to an online learning environment, affecting both grade schools and universities. Now, as we are more than halfway through 2021, Covid restrictions are slowly being relaxed to varying extents around the world and full lockdown fading into a faraway memory. As parts of life return to a pre-covid normalcy, it seems not much acknowledgment is given to the challenges of adapting to ever-changing restrictions whilst transitioning out of a global pandemic.

As someone who struggles with online learning, I am incredibly grateful to have a portion of in-person learning in my Honours year, especially given the focus on learning practical skills in the laboratory. I have sensed an unspoken pressure however, that is induced by the hybrid learning model. I find myself completing my lectures in what should be my free time because I feel a lesser obligation to complete asynchronous online lectures in a given time frame, than in-person, or synchronous online lectures. I acknowledge that this is in part due to a weakness of my time management skills, but it is also a weakness of the online learning system. A pre-recorded lecture cannot replace the engagement that a live lecture demands, especially when the group is less than 10 people like our lessons.

In addition to the challenges of hybrid learning, the ever-changing lockdown state of the country creates added complications. Not only is it incredibly frustrating, but can also be anxiety-inducing, to students and lecturers alike when new restrictions imposed on a Sunday evening impacts your schedule for the upcoming week. It is a tough balance to strike between providing the most enriched experience that in-person learning allows and being cautious and consistent with online learning

Most importantly, it is important to remember that this type of hybrid lifestyle is uncharted territory, and everybody is learning how best to navigate the changes. The Honours year is a substantial shift from undergraduate, despite a global pandemic, so try your best, but most importantly, be kind to yourself.

“When you focus on the good, the good gets better”- Abraham Hicks

by Babalwa Yekelo 

I’m from Keiskammahoek, a disadvantaged neighborhood in the Eastern Cape. However, I was fortunate enough to be raised by a mother who valued education and worked really hard to ensure that I had the education I desired, despite the fact that she never had a stable career. I was determined to work hard and make a name for myself in science by being innovative and developing therapeutics for chronic diseases like tuberculosis, cancer, hypertension, and all the other diseases I have seen people in my neighborhood suffer from due to a lack of affordable and effective treatments. Throughout my undergraduate education, I gave it my all to thrive in my studies. I showed good competence because my ultimate goal was to join the University of Cape Town, an institution that is at the forefront of Africa providing world-class research expertise.

I was delighted when I was granted the opportunity to pursue my honors degree at this reputable university. Transitioning from my former university, where I was not exposed to some of the resources, to UCT, however, took a toll on my academic theory. I was challenged to read research articles to broaden my knowledge and also improve my presentation skills.  I’m grateful that, no matter what obstacles I experienced in my modules, my lecturers, co-supervisor and classmates are always willing to help. My colleagues also made me feel confident in my work because they were always open to learn from me. I never felt insignificant or out of place. I am also overjoyed that my laboratory skills are uplifting; I am learning techniques that are relevant into achieving my initial goal, which is to develop therapeutic agents for chronic illnesses. My supervisor, Dr. Hlumani Ndlovu, deserves special recognition for his assistance in locating funds, ensuring that I am established in my new residence and assisting me with my project.

I appreciate how, in our faculty, there is always someone willing to help, whether it is with academics or personal concerns; the spirit of Ubuntu still exists. As uncomfortable as change and growth are, I am grateful to be doing my honors at this university; it has been an incredible experience thus far, and I am looking forward to the next semester. I hope I will be granted the opportunity to study further here. 

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