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UCT Diagnostic Innovations at Africa Health 2019

8 Jul 2019 - 13:15

RC&I exhibited a number of different diagnostic technologies at the Africa Health 2019 conference and exhibition that was held at Gallagher Estate, Midrand.  It was the first time that UCT showcased technologies there and it was a great experience being ‘immersed’ into the health industry with many big players exhibiting their latest equipment and services.

It was exciting to see the interest in UCT’s technologies – if the final products had been available for sale, we would definitely have had sales!  It was great to see that the diagnostics are targeting real needs.  Francois Oosthuizen (RC&I Technology Commercialisation Manager) applied for funding from the Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association (SARIMA) that had been made available by the Department of Science and Technology to attend the expo.

Two of the diagnostics related to TB – one (Prof Thomas Scriba and team) predicts the risk of a patient with latent TB converting to active TB, allowing a patient to be treated up to two years prior to the point at which they would normally have presented at a clinic; the other technology looks at biomarkers in urine (from both the mycobacterium causing the infection, as well as the body’s response to the TB infection).  The urine-based test will be excellent for broad-based screening to try and attach the ‘reservoir’ of disease in communities where patients are infectious, but not ill enough to attend a clinic.

Prof Jo-Ann Passmore and Dr Lindi Masson’s GIFT lateral flow device that identifies women with asymptomatic vaginal inflammation, attracted interest as a primary health screening tool to reduce risk of HIV infection and complications during pregnancy.  There was strong interest in cervical cancer screening too; cancers typically caused by Human Papillomavirus, another UCT research strength in terms of plant-produced vaccine production.

Continuing on the theme of early cancer detection, the diagnostics and therapeutics (theranostics) of Prof Stefan Barth sparked interest, as well as the move to Glycan Bioposy / liquid biopsy that is being pursued by Prof Kevin Naidoo.  Initial results from a small trial are sufficiently promising for UCT to raise funding for a much larger trial.  Others are detecting cancers in blood-based assays (“liquid biopsies”) only once cancer has metasticised – Prof Naidoo is trying to detect cancer much earlier than this by looking at the Glycan gene expression so that treatment can start much earlier.

Some great contacts were made and we will definitely be following up on them! The importance of raising awareness of UCT R&D activities with industry was once again clearly observed by RC&I. It was inspiring to see that the high quality and very relevant research outputs, produced by UCT researchers, impressed and excited industry.