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Eastern Cape researcher awarded prestigious UK collaboration grant

Professor Adrienne Edkins of Rhodes University in Grahamstown has been awarded a prestigious Newton Advanced Fellowship grant from the UK-based Academy of Medical Sciences.

The grant, worth £101 000 (or close to R2 million), provides opportunities for people in developing countries to foster long-term research partnerships with UK counterparts.

In this case, it will allow Prof Edkins, who holds the SARChI Chair for Molecular and Cellular Biology of the Eukaryotic Stress Response, to connect with a top researcher and molecular biology expert at Leeds University, Professor Adrian Whitehouse.

“My research group looks at how cells cope with the biological challenges of stress and how that contributes to a cancer phenotype. We have some preliminary data to suggest that one of the proteins we’ve done a lot of work on, STIP1, might be involved in the biology of KSHV, and so our work might be linked to potential therapeutic approaches,” Prof Edkins explained.

A large portion of the grant is to fund collaborative research exchanges between Prof Edkins’ team and Prof Whitehouse that aim to understand and describe the role of STIP1 in the biology of the virus and how that contributes to the cancer.

“My students and I will go to Prof Whitehouse’s laboratory in the UK to get training in how to culture these cancer cells, and to do high-end proteomics.”

This knowledge transfer will then be brought back to Rhodes University. A portion of the grant will also be used for equipment that will allow Prof Edkins and her team to establish the molecular virology and cancer culture models in South Africa.

“So there’s a big capacity development component to this grant. We’ll be getting training, facilities, and reagents. Basically, everything we need to be able to study the biology of KSHV,” she said.

“The idea is that, by the end of the grant in 2021, we will be independent researchers in this field and be able to compete in securing additional grants for future funding.”

Prof Edkins, who has held the position of Director of the Biomedical Biotechnology Research Unit (BioBRU) since 2011, also won the DST South African Women in Science (SAWiSA) Award for Distinguished Young Scientist in the Natural/Engineering Sciences in August 2018.

Source: Rhodes University

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