28 January 2022 | Story Charlene Stanley | Photo Supplied
Prof Francis E Smit has been elected as member of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS), an elite international organisation whose members have made significant contributions to the care and treatment of cardiothoracic disease throughout the world.

Prof Francis E Smit, Head of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, has become only the third person from sub-Saharan Africa to receive the honour of being elected as a member of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS).

Stringent membership requirements

The AATS is an august international academic organisation founded more than a century ago by the earliest pioneers in the field of thoracic surgery, to which members are elected according to merit. Membership requires sponsorship and referees from senior and active members, followed by an extensive vetting process by the membership committee.  Currently, the association has more than 1 400 active members from 41 countries. Around 30 to 40 new members are accepted annually, of which only 10 to 15 reside outside the USA and Canada. Successful applicants are selected based on an established international leadership record in the field of cardiothoracic surgery, as demonstrated by their commitment to society and institutions, training and education, research and innovation – including peer-reviewed publications, excellence in patient care, and mentorship of the next generation of cardiothoracic surgeons.

"We are extremely proud of this well-deserved international accolade bestowed on Prof Smit,” said Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor. “Not only does it validate the high standard of cardiothoracic training at the UFS, but also our commitment to multi-disciplinary research and internationalisation."  

Benefits of membership

For Prof Smit, the main benefit of membership lies in the fact that it facilitates high-level collaboration with USA-based researchers and companies, which will contribute towards his vision of making the UFS Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery a leading multi-disciplinary research and training unit with national and international collaborators.

Prof Smit is a firm believer in the potential and relevance of South African research. One of his greatest achievements since his appointment at the UFS in 2004, was the establishment of the interdisciplinary Robert WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre in 2015. 

The Frater Centre has three divisions, namely clinical research, bio-engineering, and an integrated multi-disciplinary training and education simulation programme, establishing collaborative research and postgraduate training programmes based on a strategy of interdisciplinary, inter-university, national, and international cooperation. 

World-class cardiovascular research at UFS 

The clinical research division – notably the interdisciplinary cardiomyopathy study group – conducts clinical research in adult and paediatric cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery. The bio-engineering division has developed a patented tissue-engineered de-cellularised bovine pericardial patch for use in cardiovascular and other surgical disciplines. A sub-section of this division conducts research in alternative fixation processes of de-cellularised biological tissue, re-cellularisation and organoid generation, as well as in cardiovascular pharmacology. Research is also being conducted on novel heart valve designs, including testing and evaluation in bench and animal models.  A world-class integrated multi-disciplinary simulation-based education and training system has been developed, catering for African needs and programmes.

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