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Rhodes student returns from Japan research trip

Date Released: Thu, 28 April 2011 10:57 +0200

Lola Afolayan, a biochemistry MSc student in the Biomedical Biotechnology Research Unit (BioBRU) at Rhodes, recently returned from a research trip to Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan as part of a collaborative grant between the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Japanese Science and Technology Agency (JSTA).

Afolayan spent four weeks in Kyoto Sangyo University’s Molecular Biosciences department under Professor Kazuhiro Nagata’s supervision conducting laboratory work in the field of malarial stress biology. With a focus on characterising a particular stress-associated malarial protein Afolayan learnt new techniques to test the activity of the protein. “In my opinion there is a lot of work that still needs to be done to provide a means by which new drug targets for malaria can be identified as P. falciparum, the parasite causing malaria has developed resistance to many of the current drugs, requiring that new drugs and drug targets be identified,’’ she said.

A former NRF grant holder, she said her research will hopefully contribute to the identification of a potential novel drug target. “Malaria is and continues to be a big killer in Africa, therefore, we need as much work being done on prevention of this infection as possible,” she said.

She found the experience of conducting research in labs equipped with cutting edge technology to be inspiring, and she hopes to bring some of the expertise gained while overseas home to Rhodes. “As a scientist it’s great to be able to access other people’s labs and to see what you should develop or improve on to make laboratory work easier and quicker. I learnt some skills and techniques there that I can hopefully apply here at Rhodes,” she said.

Although the focus of the trip was research-based, Afolayan had also enjoyed a little time out to explore. “We managed to squeeze in a little bit of sightseeing in between the lab work. I experienced a lot of things I’ve had on my bucket list. Visiting a foreign country with a totally different culture was something I’ve always wanted to do, and now it’s ticked off,” she said.

Acting head of BioBRU, Dr Adrienne Edkins is pleased with the experience Afolayan gained while overseas. “Collaborative exchanges such as these are vital for the academic and social development of our students. Not only do these interactions develop our research capacity and competitiveness, they also allow our students to act as ambassadors for South Africa and Rhodes University,” she added.

Afolayan’s trip was funded by a grant awarded to Professor Greg Blatch as part of the collaborative programme between the NRF and the JSTA. Last year two Japanese postdoctoral fellows visited BioBRU as part of the first phase of the collaboration. Dr Shoshiro Hirayama and Dr Ryo Ushioda, both post-docs in Prof Nagata’s lab spent a week at Rhodes and presented a research paper on their work on ER-associated degradation of misfolded proteins by EDEM-ERdj5 system.

Story by Sarah-Jane Bradfield

Photo: supplied