Best poster award goes to NWU postdoctoral fellow

The Faculty of Health Sciences at the North-West University (NWU) is proud to share another achievement: Dr Ilzé Engelbrecht, a postdoctoral fellow at the Occupational Hygiene and Health Research Initiative (OHHRI), was awarded the Best Poster Award at a recent postdoctoral conference hosted by Stellenbosch University.

Dr Engelbrecht's research focuses on a topic of growing importance – the potential health effects of additive manufacturing (AM), commonly known as 3D printing, on operators. Her specific area of interest is metal-based powders, a segment within AM that is experiencing rapid growth. During the 3D printing process, various materials, including metals, are used to create physical objects. However, this process releases particles and emissions, such as laser spatter, condensate powders, ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds. Despite the increasing use of AM technology, there is limited data available on emissions and exposure to larger industrial-metal 3D printers in South Africa.

To address this gap in knowledge, Dr Engelbrecht's research employs cell cultures derived from tissues that are susceptible to exposure via various routes, including skin contact, ingestion and inhalation. By utilising these cell cultures, her work aims to investigate the potential health effects associated with AM processes, particularly those involving metal-based powders.

Dr Engelbrecht's interest in this particular area was sparked quite unexpectedly. Her previous research centred around cell culturing and the use of bioassays to assess the toxic effects of environmental chemical mixtures. However, an opportunity to combine elements of toxicology with occupational hygiene and health research presented itself through her postdoctoral position at the OHHRI, under the guidance of Dr Suranie Horn.

The research conducted by Dr Engelbrecht is extremely relevant, as it contributes to raising awareness about the health risks faced by South African AM operators exposed to the particles and emissions of printing materials. Moreover, her work may provide insights into strategies for reducing or preventing exposure to metal AM powders and emissions, ultimately safeguarding the health of these operators.

Looking ahead, Dr Engelbrecht hopes for her research findings to be used as evidence to inform policymakers about the importance of implementing safer operating procedures and enhanced health and safety regulations within the South African AM industry. Her goal is to ensure that the knowledge generated through this research contributes to practical solutions that benefit the industry and protect the well-being of those working within it.

While Dr Engelbrecht's work is significant in addressing emerging challenges in the field of occupational hygiene, she, along with other OHHRI members, will also be presenting their research at the South African Institute for Occupational Hygiene (SAIOH) Annual Conference in October. Their poster, titled "Beyond the Clock: Rethinking Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) for unique work shifts", promises to offer valuable insights. In addition, a workshop hosted by the OHHRI on the NWU Potchefstroom Campus in November will explore "The changing landscape of occupational hygiene: Challenges and opportunities presented by real-time exposure data". This event will provide a platform for networking, collaboration and knowledge-sharing among stakeholders in the field of occupational health.

The faculty commends Dr Engelbrecht for her achievements and her drive to advance occupational hygiene and health research. We look forward to the road ahead, as her work has the potential to positively impact the well-being of countless individuals in the AM industry.


Dr Ilzé Engelbrecht, a postdoctoral fellow at the Occupational Hygiene and Health Research Initiative presenting her poster

Submitted on Fri, 10/13/2023 - 09:02