NWU researchers receive R9m to study heart disease in Africa
Non-communicable or lifestyle diseases will be the most common cause of death in Africa by 2030, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Researchers from the North-West University (NWU) are at the heart of a novel, R80 million public-private collaboration to boost South Africa’s medical research capabilities.
The NWU's researchers have received R9 million in funding through this joint initiative between the South African Medical Research Council, GlaxoSmithKline and the Newton Fund via the UK Medical Research Council. The money will be used for research into cardiovascular diseases, which are on the rise in Africa, along with hypertension. This is believed to be linked to a combination of factors such as rapid urbanisation, abnormal sodium handling, elevated vascular resistance and arterial stiffness, according to Prof Alta Schutte, director of the Medical Research Council Unit for Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease at the NWU.
The broader programme will also focus on research on the treatment of cancer, diabetes and kidney disease.
Disease burden requires global response
Dr Mark Palmer, director of International Strategy at the UK’s Medical Research Council, says that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) kill 38 million people a year, and almost 75% of these deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries. “It is clear that addressing the burden of NCDs around the world demands a global response,” he says. “These exciting collaborations between GlaxoSmithKline and excellent academic scientists from the UK and South Africa represent part of the Medical Research Council’s international effort to pool expertise and resources and deliver research that will make a real difference in tackling these diseases.”
In South Africa, NCDS have now become the leading group of causes resulting in death, accounting for almost 40% of total deaths and one in three deaths before the age of 60 years, says Professor Glenda Gray, President and CEO of the SAMRC. "Our ammunition in this battle is our medical research.”
Expanding on the problem in South Africa, the NWU’s Prof Alta Schutte says: “The lack of awareness, frequent underdiagnoses and ineffective treatment of hypertension in general but especially in Africans, result in severe complications, such as stroke, heart and kidney disease. In our study we aim to identify early markers or predictors for the development of cardiovascular diseases in black South Africans.
“Only by identifying such markers as potential screening indicators, predictors or targets for intervention will we be able to implement successful prevention programmes in Africans at younger ages.”
Prof Alta Schutte, director of the Medical Research Council Unit for Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease at the NWU.