Monthly Archives: September 2022

From Jozi to Stellies to CPT – Stepping out of my comfort zone

by May Krause

I was born and schooled in Johannesburg. Big, bad, crazy wonderful Joburg, I was a Jozi girl through and through. When I moved to the quaint and historically beautiful town of Stellenbosch for university, I happily donned my Matie shirt and threw myself into my own independence. Last year, after graduating I was more than ready for a change. Two years of covid had exhausted me (and almost everyone) and I felt stuck in a time warp, with the same faces who still had one goal and one goal only, to party as hard as they could. I was over that and had been since 2020 when my degree kicked into a higher gear. So, with my 3-year undergrad coming to an end, I knew it was time to leave. I needed a change, a fresh start, a new view, another layer to me.

Cape Town was the next beautiful Western Cape destination for me. I had visited my UCT friends on weekends and was already halfway in love with the vibey atmosphere, incredible nature and too- numerous to name stunning views at every turn. Whether those be of the sparkling sea, the magnificent mountain, vineyards or bustling busy streets or markets. Moving here and starting my honors at a new university knowing no one both excited and scared me but it has been the best decision I have made.

From watching the sunrise while driving around the mountain to campus, to being in my happy space, the lab, and having catchups with the wonderful friends I study with – my days are filled with interesting, challenging, expansive learning and then sensory delights in the beautiful cape. I have grown so much, in all the ways that are important. I am studying and learning what I am most passionate about. I most importantly, to me, I am the happiest I have been in a while. So, for those out there that are worried about making a change, moving away from what you know or what may feel comfortable, just do it. You never know… it might just pay off with a bigger, brighter, happier more challenging, varied, stunning view.

Not waving, but drowning

by Husnaa Bux

The amalgamation of twenty-twenty and twenty-twenty-one can only be separated by levels of
lockdown, like waves of an unexpected tsunami – isolated, estranged, remote, and restrained.
Entering twenty-twenty-two, the anchors were loosened, masks were lifted, and we were able
to come up for air. Life returned, or rather resumed, to (a new) normal – yet I still feel
restrained. Waking up for eight am lectures seems almost impossible. I struggle to comprehend
the ease with which I sailed through twenty-nineteen’s daily eight am to five pm. After a single
hour in a lecture this year, I almost feel as if I deserve to take the rest of the day off. The beach
always looks inviting, but I cannot find the will to go as the afternoon traffic tests my patience.
Even the simplest activities, like standing in an elevator with another person, seem suffocating;
it’s almost as ridiculous as staying out later than midnight and not sleeping for at least eight
hours. Suffice to say, being locked up has had a lasting effect.

Although I was present on campus last year, crowds were sparse. Now, the newly fallen
regulations have created upheavals, with everyone wanting to be above board, leaving me
feeling overwhelmed. It seems I am sinking. The sentiment of feeling alone while surrounded by
people has become my reality.

Fortunately, Honours has made the adjustment slightly easier. Coming from my third year of
MBChB, I was concerned that my background was insufficient and that I would be drowning in
work. I questioned whether the science boffins would be welcoming or deterring; especially
considering my now questionable ability to socialise and connect with others as an estranged
being. To my surprise, not only have I made friends, but the workload is manageable. Hybrid
learning, both physical and remote, has given me the space I need to transition, while still being
engaged with others.

In many ways my balance remains slightly skewed. It feels odd to be achieving a postgrad
without an undergrad, but the increased freedom and decreased working hours, has allowed
me to navigate through this new normal. At times I feel as if the tides still pull back, but I
continue to paddle in search of more stable ground.

BMedSc (Hons) in Personal Growth

by Anna Jellema-Butler

I entered this Honours program expecting to walk away with the field-specific knowledge and technical skills required to become an excellent scientist. However, as I have come to realize over the past six months, the primary outcome of our Honours year has little to do with a degree in science. The real takeaway will be immeasurable personal growth that can be applied to any career field, relationship, or goal.

Among the skills we have developed are time management, data analysis, problem solving, literature searching and review, project planning and development, and – perhaps reluctantly – public speaking. Our analytical minds were ceaselessly engaged as we were pushed to think and write critically. For the first time in our academic careers, we took personal responsibility over our work and found independence in the laboratory. We built relationships with fellow students and supervisors that will persist beyond the boundaries of campus. Most importantly, we practiced perseverance and positivity in the face of many, many mistakes and failures.

Undoubtedly, a portion of our class will go on to studies and careers unrelated to medical science. Still, we will have been well-prepared by this Honours year. Because the true challenge it posed was not in completing the lecture content or solving the scientific questions posed in our theses. Rather, it was a challenge of personal character, and one which precipitated immense personal and skill-based growth. For this reason, I am confident that my peers and I have been well-equipped for our future pursuits, wherever they may lie!

Effects of Exercise on Metabolism: More Extensive Than Previously Reported

by Anna Jellema-Butler

Regular physical activity is known to have cardiovascular-protective action mediated by improvements in lipid profiles, blood pressure, body fat, and insulin sensitivity (1). However, a recent study in Cardiovascular Research suggests that the magnitude and extent of the metabolic benefits of exercise are much more profound than previously reported. These findings have important implications for the prevention of heart disease, type II diabetes, and other cardiometabolic diseases which, together, account for over 30% of worldwide mortality (2).

In this unique study, Koay et al. (3) invited a group of 52 male military recruits of similar age and body mass index to participate in an 80-day program of daily aerobic and strength exercise. Critically, the soldiers were housed in the same domicile, allowing for careful – and previously unprecedented – control of lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep, work environment, stress, and tobacco and alcohol use.

To track changes in metabolic health, the authors compared post-exercise levels of 201 plasma metabolites to their baseline values. Global metabolism was dramatically shifted in the trained soldiers (Figure 1), with changes observed across numerous metabolic pathways and at magnitudes and significance levels heretofore unforeseen.

The largest change was a significant reduction in various fatty acid and ketone body intermediates – two substrate classes that serve as key muscle fuel. This indicates an increased capacity for and efficiency of muscular fatty acid metabolism, and to an extent that has never previously been captured. In addition to improved lipid metabolism, elevated levels of arginine and related metabolites in the post-exercise metabolomic profiles signify increased vasodilation and blood flow, reflecting improved vascular health in response to exercise.  

The scale and scope of shifts in several other metabolite classes, including gut microbiome-derived metabolites, markers of proteolysis, substrates of coagulation, endocannabinoids, nucleotides, and markers of redox stress, were similarly unanticipated and may provide novel insights into the metabolic adaptation to exercise.

However, not all the soldiers experienced the same metabolic benefits as their peers. Interestingly, an attenuated or maladaptive metabolic response was associated with increased levels of dimethylguanidino valeric acid (DMGV). This result supports a building hypothesis that DMGV, a poorly characterized metabolite, may serve as an early biomarker of subclinical metabolic dysfunction and allow for early intervention in individuals who will require strategies other than exercise to improve their cardiovascular risk (4).

As the most highly controlled metabolomic analysis of exercise to date, this study reveals the true range and magnitude of the effects of exercise across diverse metabolic pathways. Regular exercise significantly improved the overall metabolic health of young males in just three months. This result solidifies physical activity as a cornerstone of cardiovascular risk-reduction regimes. Furthermore, considered alongside demonstrated benefits for fitness, body fat, sleep, mental health, and non-communicable disease risk (5), these findings reinforce the prioritization of daily exercise for the average individual in pursuit of longevity and quality of life.


1.       Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Vol. 5, Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine. Frontiers Media S.A.; 2018.

2.       Bhatnagar P, Wickramasinghe K, Williams J, Rayner M, Townsend N. The epidemiology of cardiovascular disease in the UK 2014. Vol. 101, Heart. BMJ Publishing Group; 2015. p. 1182–9.

3.       Koay YC, Stanton K, Kienzle V, Li M, Yang J, Celermajer DS, et al. Effect of chronic exercise in healthy young male adults: A metabolomic analysis. Cardiovasc Res. 2021 Feb 1;117(2):613–22.

4.       Robbins JM, Herzig M, Morningstar J, Sarzynski MA, Cruz DE, Wang TJ, et al. Association of Dimethylguanidino Valeric Acid with Partial Resistance to Metabolic Health Benefits of Regular Exercise. JAMA Cardiol. 2019 Jul 1;4(7):636–43.

5.       Ruegsegger GN, Booth FW. Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2022 Aug 31];8. Available from:

The Covid Storm

by Pearly Joubert

An unexpected storm
Wild and unpredictable
Such an unusual form
But undeniable

Wind, hale and rain
Increasing world-wide pain
Help! The children are crying
Scientists and doctors were trying
But Covid couldn’t care less; did its best,
And put people to rest

Hospitals overcrowding
Made the beds limited
Businesses drowning
Humans became intimidated

So, we created lockdowns
Morning, afternoon and evening, we stayed in our gowns
Working from home
Having zoom meetings with colleagues from Rome
Every five minutes, washing our hands; trying our best
To not let Covid, put us to rest

Unfortunately, the rate of mutation,
created a Beta, Gamma and Omicron nation
Wearing masks couldn’t even make the storm end
Covid made sure it became a legend.

Friends became round icons on a screen
Some lecturers became a meme
WhatsApp became my hang-out spot
And although Covid is smaller than a dot
Its impact greater than a storm
Covid became our norm

Despite it all, I had time to look at the stars
Also, read about Elon Musk and Mars
I could spend quality time with my sister
Which usually only happened end semester
Almost beat my dad at chess
And helped my mom clean up the kitchen mess

There were conspiracy theories
Bill Gates using vaccines to implant microchips
Storming influx of online queries
We realized the need for improvement in our leadership
Learn from our history
To prevent a similar catastrophe

We can now un-mask?
I heard everyone ask…

Growing with Science

by Keegan Mills

Transitioning from medicine to science this year has been interesting. I have found that science has involved more thinking, understanding and application as opposed to the memorization that is required in medicine. I have been tasked with analysing and interpreting data this year and learning about and figuring out how different experiments work and how they can be used to answer specific questions which has required me to do a lot of my own research and learning so that I was able to understand the experiments and report back on them to my peers. Being challenged and having to apply myself in this way is something that I have enjoy and it has grown my interest in science and spurred me to want to continue my scientific journey and become a future clinician-scientist.

I have read many, many journal articles this year which has proved to be a valuable learning experience. In the past when I would read articles I often would struggle to understand and interpret the results confidently because of my lack of understanding of how the experiments that were done worked and how they could be used to prove a hypothesis.  Through my learning of various scientific techniques this year, I am now able to read papers confidently and can interpret the message they are trying to convey. Not only that, but I am much better at identifying bad science and when things aren’t quite adding up in a paper, which is an important skill to have.

Engaging with my research project has been frustrating. You can spend hours working on an experiment and do everything you needed to and when it gets right to the final point where you just need to quantify your results using various scientific equipment, you can get no data. This has happened a couple of times to me and it has been very frustrating. It is very different from medicine  where you know what you need to do and what is required of you academically and so the responsibility is on you to do what is required or not, things are in your hands and control (most of the time anyway). But such is the nature of science, things don’t always go to plan.

Working with different personalities for presentations and projects has also presented its challenges with people only wanting to work at certain times of the day or to work independently and just submit their portion of work. Navigating these situations and finding common ground has been a good experience to have to help develop my future leadership capabilities.

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