NWU researchers receive significant funding to tackle huge threat in Africa

Belinda Bantham -- Wed, 03/08/2017 - 08:33

NWU researchers receive significant funding to tackle huge threat in Africa

A portfolio of clinical research programmes are set to launch on South African soil with the potential to enhance the scientific understanding of what is expected to become the most common cause of death in South Africa - non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Researchers studying cardiovascular diseases and it’s risk factors at the North-West University (NWU) just received significant funding to help alleviate this huge African risk.

According to a statement by the South African Medical Council, the treatment of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease will also enjoy attention within this programme.

Heeding predictions from the World Health Organisation that NCDs will be the most common cause of death in Africa by 2030, a novel public-private collaboration between the United Kingdom (UK) and South Africa has responded by investing over R80 million into South Africa’s medical research capabilities. This initiative between the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), GlaxoSmithKline and the Newton Fund via the UK Medical Research Council, will also offer skills transfer to clinicians and academics who receive funding through the network. 

Dr Mark Palmer, director of international strategy at the UK’s Medical Research Council said: “According to the World Health Organisation, NCDs kill 38 million people each year with almost three quarters of these deaths - 28 million - occurring in low- and middle-income countries. It is clear that addressing the burden of NCDs around the world demands a global response. These exciting collaborations between GSK and excellent academic scientists from the UK and South Africa represent part of the MRC’s international effort to pool expertise and resources and deliver research that will make a real difference in tackling these diseases.”

“According to research done at the SAMRC, non-communicable diseases have now become the leading group of causes resulting in death in South Africa accounting for almost 40% of total deaths and one in three deaths before the age of 60 years,” says Prof Glenda Gray, president and CEO of the SAMRC. “Our ammunition in this battle is our medical research,” Gray concluded.

The NWU’s researchers that successfully received R9 million funding through this initiative, is on a path to contribute new insights into NCDs through the research into cardiovascular diseases. According to Prof Alta Schutte, director of the MRC Unit for Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease at the NWU, the increasing incidence of cardiovascular disease and hypertension in Africa is believed to result from a combination of factors such as rapid urbanisation, abnormal sodium handling, elevated vascular resistance and arterial stiffness.

“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,” Schutte says.

“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,” Schutte concluded. 


Prof Alta Schutte, director of the MRC Unit for Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease at the North-West University.