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Inventor Profiles

Dr Sudesh Sivarasu

Sudesh Sivarasu

Dr Sudesh Sivarasu’s path to becoming a prolific inventor of biomedical devices has had its twists and turns.

As a child, he was mesmerised by the locomotives that thundered down the railways in his hometown near Chennai in India. He also loved to conduct experiments, especially if they included fire, which led to him almost burning down the family home more than once.

So, while it was not surprising that he elected to study engineering at an undergraduate level, his choice of business as a subject for his graduate studies was unexpected. Read more...

Samuel Ginsberg

Samuel GinsbergUCT electrical engineer and senior lecturer Samuel Ginsberg has had a hand in inventing such diverse devices as a heat detector for informal settlements, an expandable surgical implant for children, a low-cost hearing aid and a wearable device that measures ambient CO2 levels.

What does he think is the secret to successful innovation?

“A lot of the things I have worked on have not been my ideas,” Ginsberg says, humbly. “I think that’s maybe part of how these things happen though . . . You take a real world problem and you find a bunch of people with very different skill sets to try and find a solution. I think you also have to listen to what the end user of the device really needs.” Read more...

Stuart Swan

Stuart SwanOn 26 August 2015 at 09:37, the Ascension III water rocket soared into the sky for the first time. It measured 2.68 m in length, weighed less than 1.5 kg and reached a speed of 550 km/h in 0.5 seconds. Most importantly, it shot to an altitude of 835 m, beating the previous world record by 217 m.

The team who built the rocket had worked for two years to get that point and they had suffered their fair share of setbacks along the way. Mechanical engineering student Stuart Swan, who worked with Professor Arnaud Malan as well as fellow students Donovan Changfoot and William Liw Tat Man, remembers having to go back to the drawing board on at least three separate occasions. Read more...

Asooc Prof George Vicatos

Assoc Prof George VicatosAssoc Prof George Vicatos works with orthopaedic surgeons and oncologists to design and develop implants that are unique to each patient.

For a long time Associate Professor George Vicatos felt that he was missing some piece of knowledge that rendered his relatively vast education incomplete.

His mother was a medical doctor in Athens, where he grew up. He would entertain patients in her surgery and study her anatomy textbooks even before he could read the words on the pages. When it came time to pick a course of study, however, George Vicatos chose engineering. Read more...

Adam Van Niekerk

Adam Van NiekerkGravity, as a force to defy and as an inspiration, has been central to Adam van Niekerk’s interest in engineering and his fledgling career as an inventor.

In fact, as a child he knew what it felt like to leap over tall buildings in a single bound. Back then, a 10-year-old Van Niekerk often volunteered as the pint-sized pilot for the projects he dreamed up with his older brother and father (both of whom are engineers).

“At that time my father was working for The Hamilton Airship Company on a helium airship that the South African military was creating,” remembers Van Niekerk. “At the end of the project, my dad had some helium and sail cloth left over and so of course we decided to build our own balloon. Since I was the smallest and the lightest, I got to be the guinea pig. I could basically moon walk over the house and the blue gum trees that surrounded it. It was really fun until a wind came up and then I almost turned into a kite.” Read more...

Lutete Khonde

Lutete KhondeGrowing up in the DRC, Lutete Khonde had no idea that a decade later he would find himself in Cape Town, dedicating his PhD research to finding new ways of making ergothioneine.

Ergothioneine was first discovered a century ago when it was extracted in 1909 from a fungus known as ergot. It has only been in the last few decades, however, that scientists have become interested in the use of this amino acid within the human body.

Although the human body is incapable of producing the substance itself, it was discovered that our bodies contain a specific protein transporter for ergothioneine and that the substance is most prevalent in human skin, eyes, semen and kidneys. Read more...

Prof Kevin Naidoo

Prof Kevin NaidooProfessor Kevin Naidoo’s research takes place at the intersection of biology, chemistry, statistics and mathematics. At UCT’s Scientific Computing Research Unit, where he is Director, he uses informatics and computer modelling techniques to interrogate data and simulate complex molecular processes in disease. At present this includes his work on identifying cancer sub-types and isolating the key molecular signatures of different kinds of tumours. Or, in his own words, his work is all about the three C’s - computing, carbohydrates, and cancer. Read more...

Prof Kelly Chibale

Prof Kelly ChibaleInventor, Prof Kelly Chibale, of the Department of Chemistry and IDMM, has pushed drug discovery at UCT to a new level with the establishment of the H-3D Centre for Drug Discovery. The Centre's activities mirror those of a start-up biotechnology or pharmaceutical company - once medicinal chemistry starting points (hits) are identified they are progressed along the innovation chain to produce lead compounds and to further optimise these leads.

There is a strong focus on health issues of relevance to Africa (e.g. TB and Malaria) with important partnerships such as with Medicines for Malaria Venture in place. The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) has funded a key platform that underpins the Centre. Read more...

Prof Edward Rybicki

Prof Edward RybickiProf Edward Rybicki of Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB), whilst being on A-rated scientist with a significant publication record is also one of UCT's most prolific inventors. Importantly too a number of inventors have been licensed commercially to top pharmaceutical companies, or are under evaluation in option agreements.

Working in both MCB and in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IIDMM), Prof Rybicki concentrates on the expression of antigens from human and animal viruses in both plant and insect cells. These form the basis for human and animal vaccines. His plant expression expertise can also be harnessed to produce other protein such as enzymes. Read more...

Prof Anna-Lise Willamson

Prof Anna-Lise WillamsonProf Anna-Lise Willamson of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IIDMM) and team has achieved success with two preventative HIV vaccines entering the first stage of clinical trials - a first for Africa.

HIV is not her sole focus, with other patents filed in Human Papillomavirus vaccines and a number of animal health vaccines. Her current focus is on continuing with BCG based vaccines and poxvirus vector development having assembled an extensive collection of avian pox viruses.

Another achievement was the establishment of an OECD-compliant Good Laboratory Practice facility for the physical testing of pharmaceuticals, which was used for the patency testing of the SAAVI DNA-C2 vaccine candidate. The HIV vaccine development built up invaluable local experience and insight into the process to take a vaccine from initial research through animal trials into human vaccine trials. Read more...

Prof Edward Sturrock

Prof Edward SturrockAlong with his collaborators, Prof Sturrock published the first three-dimensional structure of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) in Nature in 2003. This protein plays a key role in blood pressure regulation.

The structure has enabled a new generation of ACE inhibitor drugs to be developed that are safer, more effective and have fewer side effects. Currently, having exhausted attempts at local fund raising, a small amount of funding has been raised from overseas to keep the project moving. The focus has been on key efficacy testing of lead molecules to better position the IP for the significant funding the will be needed to take the new drugs into the market. Prof Sturrock has been involved in developing a number of Business Plans and start-up company models to explore routes to commercialisation. Read more...

Profs Margit Harting and David Britton

Profs Margit Harting and David BrittonBased in the physics Department, Profs Margit and Harting and David Britton have amassed the largest "focused" IP portfolio at UCT. The portfolio comprises some 14 patent families associated with printed silicon electronics.

Their innovation allows the electronic silicon nanoparticle ink to be printed on a substrate (eg. paper, fabric, etc.) where it works as a semiconductor, garnering the team several top industry awards.

In 2012 UCT assigned the IP portfolio to the start-up company that the inventors have created-PST Sensors (Pty) Ltd. This company has a number of Joint Development Agreements with commercial partners to develop specific products, such as thermistors for temperature sensing. UCT is a shareholder in this company.

This technology could bring inexpensive, ubiquitous electronics in terms of electronics in packaging in clothing, in rooms, in furniture, in documents, flexible displays and much more. Read more...