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Mr Wenkosi Qulu.

Mr Wenkosi Qulu, a master’s student conducting novel research in the Optics and Imaging Unit of UKZN’sCollege of Health Sciences (CHS), will spend three months training under esteemed Medical professor, Cheryl Winkler, on mapping by admixture linkage disequilibrium at the National Institutes of Health (NHI) in the United States.

The overjoyed Qulu said he was fortunate and blessed to have received this wonderful opportunity sponsored by the Columbia University-Southern African Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program (CU-SA Fogarty AITRP).

The specialised technique will enable Qulu to do much-needed molecular work on the genes, MYH9 and APOL1, in HIV associated and idiopathic steroid resistant focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a common cause of kidney diseases in children, especially in South Africa.

Professor Rajendra Bhimma, a UKZN specialist in the field said: ‘To date the pathogenesis of idiopathic steroid resistant nephrotic syndrome (SRNS) – the majority of which are confirmed to be focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) and HIV-related nephropathy (predominantly FSGS) on biopsy – remains elusive.’

Bhimma explained that both conditions were common glomerular diseases in children of KwaZulu-Natal and that it had long been established that kidney disease was more frequent and progressed to end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) faster among populations of African descent as opposed to other racial groups.

‘The genetic basis for glomerulopathies in both the general population and the increased risk of kidney disease with its propensity for progression to ESKD in Africans remains elusive. Wenkosi’s study aims to determine the role of genetic variations at the MYH9 and APOL1 locus in the development of FSGS in children with idiopathic SRNS and HIV-related nephropathy (FSGS),’ said Bhimma. Qulu will learn new technologies and be able to exercise the skills obtained upon return.

‘This will be the first study of the genetics of HIV-associated and idiopathic focal segmental glomerulosclerosis that will be performed in patients of South African origin and will constitute ground-breaking research in this field,’ Bhimma said.

Excited and anxious about his first-time-abroad experience, the determined Qulu said: ‘With the new techniques I’m going to be exposed to, it’s going to be an adventure!’

His sister, Ms Lihle Qulu, a PhD student and CHS Developmental Lecturer, recently returned from the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary in Canada as a visiting student.

Qulu said their mother was always supportive of their academic achievements. He believes there are a lot of opportunities in scientific research for young, talented people and looks forward to pursuing his PhD upon completing his Masters.

Professor Anita Naicker, Qulu’s research supervisor, said it was very hard work he was heading for abroad, but also an amazing opportunity. She described it as capacity development for KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa at large.