The Importance of Contemplation in The Journey of Life

by Siphamandla Ngwenya

I’ve always found it hard to express my thoughts, be it in writing or properly articulating what I’m thinking. As hard as my honour’s year has been, I have to say it has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life because it has allowed to me to grow as an individual. One of the major practices that has given me the mental capacity to surpass my limits this year is contemplating about all the things that have happened to get me to where I am today, and what the future holds for me based on the choices I make.

I would define contemplation as the act of continuously pondering over a question in the mind without bias to investigate the nature, the truth, or the very essence of the thing in question. Contemplation techniques in my eyes are a fundamental requirement of any individual who aims to improve their way of living, emotional intelligence, learning abilities and overall, their mental well-being.

When I was younger, there was a moment when I wondered how I was breathing and I had a brief panic phase because of the series of questions I asked myself – “How am I breathing?”, “How am I thinking?”, “Why am I me?”, “Am I inhabiting the brain?”, or “Am I the brain?”. Children are naturally curious but when we grow, our curiosity is drained out and these reflective questions broadened my horizon and re-ignited my curiosity to all my surroundings. Indeed, there is so much to unearth from the path taken by a curious mind.

The state of the school system these days rewards standardization and adherence to rules, rather than rewarding exploration, which has led to a lot of students losing curiosity. I am fortunate enough in the sense that when I look back at the schools I studied in – from primary school to the tertiary institution, they played a significant role in preserving my curiosity. Over time, my imagination and curiosity expanded and at present, I’m in the field of infectious diseases and immunology, because I’m overly curious of how the body interacts with microorganisms and how it influences the onset of diseases.

Through my honours journey, what I’ve found particularly interesting is the relationship between contemplative practises and critical thinking. As scientists to be, it is crucial that we improve our critical thinking. Contemplation plays a crucial role in this because science itself is an art of deep thought based on questions that keep us awake at night and conducting experiments to answer those burning questions. In essence, the best scientific innovations were born out of great minds, who were not confined to a narrow thought process.

Contemplation especially this year has been a cornerstone in creating meaning to my life in a world that is pointless, but at the same time not pointless. I find comfort in that because I know that I can create my own meaning of life, while other people may feel an empty void. Considering this, I would challenge the latter to put down their expectations of what the world should be and unlearn the negative assumptions of meaninglessness. I ask you to take a moment and reflect on this – If you do see your life as not having a purpose, exit that mind space, contemplate, and try to see your life’s worth as part of a puzzle that would be incomplete without you.

Trust your gut.

by Micaela Louise Swart

At the end of last year, upon the completion of my undergraduate degree, I was faced with an incredibly difficult decision. The decision was whether to pursue my honours degree in Medical Microbiology, or in Biomedical Forensic Science.

You see, I had majored in Medical Microbiology during my undergrad and was actually pretty good at it, so that was a comfortable option for me. The thought of studying Medical Microbiology however did not excite me like Forensics did. I guess I have the same reason for wanting to study forensic science as most other students – because of CSI and those other intriguing true crime documentaries. My boyfriend never understood my love for those shows. My longing to study forensic science went deeper than that though. I wanted to contribute to the medico-legal system of South Africa. I wanted to seek justice for families, and help them find some level of closure. I wanted to be part of something greater.

I made an effort to speak to individuals from the SAPS Forensic Laboratories to obtain any valuable advice or information about the forensics field. They warned me about the lack of resources and other issues experienced in their labs, as well as the lack of growth opportunities at SAPS specifically. Some even tried to steer me away from forensics as a career choice because of their negative experiences. This made me doubt whether forensic science was the route for me to pursue.

I spoke to my family and friends about the decision that had to be made, and asked for their thoughts and guidance. Hearing their perspectives was so incredibly helpful, as they are all in the working world. They expressed that my voice and body language changed when speaking about forensics, like something lit up inside of me. They knew that forensics was the path for me, and deep down, I knew it too. I guess the difficulty rested in whether I wanted to pick the safe, comfortable option, or the one that I was truly passionate about, but came with more uncertainties. After much debate with those in my life, going backwards and forwards with myself, as well as writing pros-and-cons lists, I decided to trust my gut.  I decided to choose something that I was going to look forward to studying every day, even if I didn’t know what the future held for that particular field.

Now, looking back, I realise that Medical Microbiology has not once crossed my mind since my first day of honours in Biomedical Forensic Science. This year has been life changing. I’ve been privileged enough to be supervised by one of the most knowledgeable individuals I’ve ever come across; I’ve formed some of the healthiest friendships I’ve ever had; I’ve been shown patience, encouragement, love and understanding by my small but incredibly supportive department. Truth is, I’ve enjoyed this year so much that I’ve decided to pursue my MSc in Biomedical Forensic Science. I guess you could say my gut was right.

Discovering my limits

by Darshni Naiker

I completed my undergrad in the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Medical science: Anatomy, thereafter I moved to Cape Town, where I got the opportunity to study in the University of Cape Town doing forensic science and as much as this as always been a goal of mine the difference in level of work load was evident from day one. However, during the course of the first semester, I learnt so many new and intriguing concepts of forensic science including performing different analyses, scientific writing, and professionalisms. There was times when things would get overwhelming but being exposed to new ideas and concepts I have not been introduced to in undergrad pushed me to work harder and challenge myself. I learnt to questions issues or situations and try to apply the theory taught into assignments given and problems I faced.

Even though I did have to work on a project in undergrad, the experience is entirely different. I have gained a lot of knowledge of a field I previously had no interest in. Every component of the project has helped me grow as an individual and scientist. The research done for my project helped me understand the value of reading articles and even though I sometimes still find interpreting articles difficult, reading many articles and talking to other students in the field as only further sparked my interest in entomology. A large component of my project has been lab work, and this allowed my to gain skills I did not have a chance too. Performing them for my project has not been without challenges and there are times when I get disappointed when experiments fail but I have learnt to accepts the outcomes, figure out what went wrong and work harder on the next one.

Another important part of the course that has left an impact on me is the presentations that was required of me to be done as assessments or for journal clubs. As someone who is afraid of public speaking this aspects was nerve wrecking and caused me a lot of anxiety but after completing a few the experience helped me be more prepared and get used to the idea of talking in front of people. This was an important skill to gain and helped me develop as a student and scientist. Throughout this roller-coaster of a year, I also gained some of the most supportive, encouraging, and inspiring friends. Despite their crazy busy schedules, they always seemed to make time to check in on me and sharing our daily troubles made each day better. All the situations, good and bad I have experienced so far has been so instrumental to me and my journey in University, I have discovered my limits and that I can handle more than I thought I was capable off. 


by Sanele Mdletshe

The liver is the most important organ of the body, it performs crucial metabolic functions, and these includes metabolizing toxic substances, producing bile for digestion and maintaining blood sugar levels. It is a very unique organ that is able to repair itself after damage, but this is not the case if the injury has progressed to cirrhosis, which is a chronic liver damage as a results of alcohol abuse or hepatitis. The ultimate treatment for end-stage cirrhosis is liver transplantation, but the shortage of donors remains a major obstacle. According to the global observatory on donation and transplantation, in 2020, the liver was the second most transplanted organ to save people’s lives. GLOBACAN estimates indicate that chronic liver diseases and liver cirrhosis contribute to more than 1 million deaths annually across the world.

In this study, researchers looked at the alternative options for treatment of chronic liver diseases and liver failure. The study was conducted based on the application of the principles of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. Briefly, the aim was to use induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to enhance the repair of the liver after cirrhosis, this is due to their pluripotent properties which allows them to differentiate into all cell types including liver cells. iPSCs were generated by transfecting somatic fibroblasts with four transcription factors (OCT4, SOX2, KLF4 and MYC) famously known as “Yamanaka factors”.



Conclusion/take homes
In this study, authors established a three-step protocol to generate iPSC-derived hepatocytes that can be an alternative treatment for chronic liver diseases and liver failure, as assessed in mice with lethal fulminant hepatic failure. This protocol is very rapid and efficient as it takes only 12 days.

The use of iPSCs holds a great promise in medicine, its advantages includes overcoming ethics against the use of human embryonic stem cells, reduces the risk of immunosuppression as these cells are generated from the patient’s somatic cells.

Chen, Y., Tseng, C., Wang, H., Kuo,H., Yang, V.W., and Lee O.K. 2012. Rapid generation of mature hepatocyte-like cellsfrom human induced pluripotent stem cells by an efficient threestep protocol.

Taking a step back

by Katelyn Kalil

The undergrad experience is no doubt a stressful one. There are always numerous assignments that need submitting, tests every other week and practicals that seem to last entire evenings. The combination of this stress with the drop in marks from high school that the majority of us experience, also frequently leads to impostor syndrome. It is no wonder that by the time these three years are finished, many of us send off our applications for honours, take a vacation, and put it to the back of our minds.

I think that this lack of time to ourselves can often be detrimental. Paradoxically, we lose touch with our subjects and how we feel about them because we spend too much time fully engaged with them. My undergrad seemed to fly by. I enjoyed it and loved my majors, but I felt a little confused about where my future would take me or even what options were available.

COVID-19 came about during my 3rd and final year of my BSc undergrad which lead to me moving back home. It quickly became a year that lacked any form of routine, this was very detrimental to my studies at first. There seemed to be nothing but an abundance of time and I could not seem to spend it correctly no matter how many schedules I drew up. Luckily, I got a bit more of a grip on things in the second half of the year and my marks began to improve.

I also began to reconnect with some of my work again. Having some time to assess how you feel about the work you are doing is incredibly important. Undergrads are relatively broad and so when we pick what we want to specialise in it is helpful to have a good idea of the type of work we enjoy and the type of work we are good at and identify any overlaps.

I believe that the second half of the year helped me to do just that and I began to cross-check all of my work against my strengths and likes. Having time to do some of the things I enjoyed again was also incredibly helpful. It is important to not lose ourselves to work but rather to bring our best selves to the table- and that means living an all-rounded life, in whatever way that means to us as individuals.

After my plans of studies fell through due to air travel restrictions and applying for UCT honours and not getting in for the following year, I decided to take a gap year. During this gap year, I worked and completed online courses which have made this current year, doing honours, much easier.

I am aware that I was incredibly lucky with my COVID-19 experience. I had a supportive family and all the resources I needed. While, like most people, it also took its toll on my mental health, it also served as an opportunity to take a breather and reconnect with myself and my work. Although I still lack a clear plan for my future I am confident I am doing what I enjoy and for now, that is enough.

TB, is there anything we can do?

by Harry Kim

Mycobacterium Tuberculosis was first discovered in 1882 and it is still the leading cause of death of a single infectious agent. In 2019 alone, TB accounted for 10 million diagnosed cases and 1 to 2 million deaths. So the question arises, is there anything we can do?

The complexity of TB comes from the different levels of drug resistance the bacteria have. There are over 20 anti-TB drugs being used, all with varying resistance in the community. Undertreating leads to higher mortality and overtreating result in more significant side effects (often detrimental to patient’s life). So why after 140 years are we still making this mistake?

Due to the vast number of drugs, it is costly to have resistance testing facilitates for all anti-TB drugs. Often high TB burden countries are also developing countries and can only accommodate for isoniazid and rifampicin testing. So how do test more accurately?

All these problems have one answer: whole genome sequencing.

High throughput can be very expensive. However, in areas where TB is the number one cause of death, it can become an investment to improve the lives of the whole community as correct treatment can decrease mortality rates, decrease spread and improve symptom control.

The research shows 22% of local testing was incorrect according to the WGS testing, with half of these cases being inappropriately treated. It was also shown that 28% of mortalities had incorrect resistance testing. The odd ratio showed that patients are 4 times as likely to die when undertreated instead of receiving appropriate treatment.

The undertreatment of TB due to incorrect resistance testing results seems to be main culprit in this complex disease but whole genome sequencing is the answer to save millions.


Zürcher K, Reichmuth ML, Balif M, Louiseu C, Borrell S, Reinhard M, et al. Moratlity from drug-resistant tuberculosis in high-burden countries comparing routine drug susceptibility testing with whole-genome sequencing: a multicentre cohort study. Lancet. 2021 July;2:320-9.

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