07 September 2020 | Story Andre Damons | Photo Pexels

Researchers from the University of the Free State (UFS) and the Central University of Technology (CUT) have recently learned that their research projects will be funded, with one research project even getting double the amount of funding requested. 

The research project of Dr Doors Fonternel, an MMed student working under Dr Edwin Turton in the Department of Anaesthesiology at the UFS, and Prof Ihar Yadroitsau (Igor Yadroitsev), Research Chair in Medical Product Development through Additive Manufacturing and the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at CUT, titled 3D Printed laryngoscope for endotracheal intubation, received R400 000 in funding. The project only requested half the amount, but in granting the funding, the evaluation committee was of the opinion that due to the relevance of the research and the long-term sustainability of the project, funding should be adjusted to R400 000.  

Another research project receiving R400 000 in funding, is a project by Dr Alice Brink, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at the UFS, and Dr Tshepiso J Makhafola, Assistant Dean: Research, Innovation and Engagement and Senior Lecturer: Clinical Technology in the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences at CUT. The committee supported the novelty of the project and the contribution towards both applicants’ participation in the Future Professors’ Programme.
These projects are part of nine collaboration projects between researchers from the UFS and CUT that were approved for funding between 2019 and 2020. The funding ranges from R50 000 to R400 000. 

Using 3D printer technology 

Dr Fonternel says getting more funding than expected gives them the motivation to push through the obstacles presented by a project like this. 

“It is innovative and uncharted, so it helps to know that others also believe in the possibilities. Apart from the design, testing, and validation that this project aims to achieve, we are looking to broaden the scope into materials and sterilisation. We are also looking at acquiring equipment to enable the UFS to be able to design and manufacture devices of similar need and purpose,” says Dr Fonternel.

According to Dr Fonternel, who designed, developed, and then prototyped the video laryngoscope with the help of the Product Development and Testing Station (PDTS) at CUT, he hopes that with this new research, the validated technology of video laryngoscopy could be provided to a much larger medical community.

Prof Yadroitsau’s role is the overall project management, mechanical testing, project analysis, and possible additional fundraising.

“This can be beneficial to rural hospitals and centres with limited funds and equipment and can make a difference in the quality of care we provide to our patients. It has the potential to improve the safety of patients and healthcare workers in our current COVID-19 battle by bringing First World technology to the front line.” 

Valuable contribution to cancer research

Drs Brink and Makhafola will be collaborating on the development and testing of organometallic complexes, primarily model pharmaceuticals that can carry a radioactive metal centre. Their collaboration will develop model lead compounds and then test their biological activity, particularly for anticancer and antimicrobial activities, including toxicological profiling to determine if it is a viable option for future cancer treatment. 

“Drug development has significant challenges, particularly for academic institutions that do not have access to the focused and integrated specialty networks as developed by Big Pharma such as Roche, Novartis, Bayer, etc.  The research and development pathway of a new pharmaceutical agent that becomes commercially available, takes on average 12 years and costs approximately £1,15 bn.”

“For every single drug that receives approval, an estimated 10 000 compounds have been considered as viable options but have failed for one reason or another. Our research collaboration focuses on addressing these two main challenges that hinder academia from successfully entering the drug market.  We hope to identify potential lead compounds with novel mechanisms of action for the development of cancer therapeutics,” says Dr Brink.

This collaborative team hopes to promote and make a valuable contribution to cancer research, specifically towards the discovery of new effective cancer treatments/drugs. 

New ways of imaging patients with rheumatoid arthritis

Dr Evbuomwan Osayande, a nuclear medicine specialist at the UFS/Universitas Academic Hospital, says his research will compare the efficacy of EC-DG (ethylenedicysteine-deoxyglucose) imaging with ultrasound imaging in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. At this stage, the research is still in the protocol phase. A protocol has been submitted to the Health Sciences Research Ethics Committee of the UFS for approval. The project received R350 000. 

“If this imaging modality proves to be highly accurate and can detect disease activity, including low disease activity, much earlier than other investigational tools, it might become a routine imaging modality in the management of patients with rheumatoid arthritis,” says Dr Osayande, the principal investigator in this research.

If we can detect low disease activity with the EC-DG imaging, says Dr Osayande, it will ensure that the rheumatologists will continue patient treatment and thus prevent them from having complications, such as bone erosions and joint destruction. “It is an exciting project and we are all looking forward to the outcome.”

Embracing 4IR

The research project of Dr Thuthukile Jita, Senior Lecturer in the UFS School of Education Studies, and Dr Carlie Luzaan Schlebusch from CUT, investigates the possibilities and affordances of training student teachers to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution, specifically by learning to teach Science in schools using mobile devices and mobile apps. The project received R50 000 in funding.

“The study is perfectly timed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in large-scale disruption of schooling as we know it.  The call for teachers and learners and the education system generally to embrace technology and use information and communication technology (ICT) to continue and restore teaching and learning in some way, has been overwhelming.” 

“Consequently, there has been an almost overnight surge in the use of mobile devices for teaching and learning in schools. Sadly, the pandemic has further exposed the digital-divide reality that not all schools, teachers, and/or learners are able to engage effectively with the technology.” 

“Therefore, this study will assist in repositioning teacher preparation to use mobile devices and applications that are relevant for the topics covered in the national Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) document, starting with the subject Natural Sciences for the senior phase, which include Grades 7 to 9,” says Dr Jita, who is the principal investigator of the project and who is also responsible for the conceptualisation and overall direction of the project milestones.

Research projects that have also received funding, include: 

• IoT-based early diagnostics of mobility challenges in the elderly by Elisha Markus (CUT) and Paul Kogeda (UFS). 
• Impact of urban development on environmental sustainability: Case study of Mangaung Metropolitan municipality by Dr SA Oke (CUT) and Dr Olusola Ololade (UFS).
• Promoting inclusive pedagogies through transformative learning modalities in multicultural educational settings by Dr June Palmer (CUT) and Dr Rantsie Kgothule (UFS).
• Optimisation of imaging protocols for maxillofacial reconstructive prosthesis design and modelling by Prof Deon de Beer (CUT) and Dr Jacques Janse van Rensburg (UFS).
• LET-MI-C project (Lumbar ErecTor spinae block spread using MRI and CT) by Dr Je’nine Horn-Lodewyk (CUT) and Prof Gillian Lamacraft (UFS).  

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