Research units are accredited by the University Research Committee (URC). Each research unit is based in one of the departments of the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) with a focused research mandate that largely lies within one discipline. Some of the accredited Faculty's research units are co-recognised by the Medical Research Council of South Africa (MRC).
Adolescent Health Research Unit
Adolescents face a wide range of health problems owing to a combination of biological, social and psychological factors. There is thus a niche for a research facility that focuses specifically on the health needs of adolescents.
The Adolescent Health Research Unit builds on existing research and collaborations to co-ordinate, promote and facilitate research on all aspects of adolescent health.
The specific aims of the Unit are to facilitate cutting-edge interdisciplinary research that addresses key national public adolescent health priorities; promote networking among adolescent health researchers, practitioners and policy makers; increase the profile of the Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT, with regard to world-class adolescent health research; provide policy consultation at local, provincial, national and international levels; and increase and improve educational offerings in adolescent health at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
Albertina and Walter Sisulu Institute for Ageing in Africa
The Albertina and Walter Sisulu Institute of Ageing in Africa is a cross-disciplinary group within the Department of Medicine and incorporates the divisions of Geriatric Medicine, Geriatric Neuropsychology, Geriatric Neurosciences, Geriatric Psychiatry and a Gerontology programme.
The Institute strives to be an academic and research centre of excellence which addresses critical issues of ageing in Africa, and serves as a catalyst for local, national and regional expertise and a focal point for the development of research services and training.
Its mission is achieved through interdisciplinary and cross-national partnerships and research collaboration, human resource development, and policy information in the national context and in the African continent.
Areas in which research projects are currently conducted at the Institute include physical, cognitive and social functioning, and quality of life; vascular risk factors and stroke; falls in older persons and quality of care; and dementia and risk factors for cognitive disorders.
Brain-Behaviour Unit (BBU)
The Brain-Behaviour Unit (BBU) is a multi-disciplinary, UCT-accredited collaborative hub of psychiatric neuroscience research. It focuses on work particularly relevant to the South African and African context, and comprises three interlinked Groups:
- Psychiatric Neurogenetics
- Psychiatric Neuroimaging
- Translational Neuroscience
The BBU uses a range of methods, including neurogenetics, neuroimaging, and animal models, with the aim of ultimately advancing diagnostic tools and treatments for people with mental disorders.
Cardiovascular Research Unit (CRU)
The core research pursuit of the Cardiovascular Research Unit centres around the concept of 'regenerative medicine'.
The goal of which is engineered regeneration of diseased structures through co-ordinated and site-directed signalling to facilitate gradual in situ remodelling of surgically replaced hybrid biosynthetic devices.
Offering patients an immediate dramatic improvement in quality of life through return to functionality of these diseased structures
Children's Institute (CI)
The Children's Institute is an interdisciplinary policy research unit located in the Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT. We have developed a model of social responsiveness that combines the rigour of academic enquiry and the energy of civil society activism to explore the tensions between policy, practice and children’s lived realities; and to promote the design and implementation of laws and services that enable all children to thrive.
Our work is widely recognised and relied upon by government, academia, civil society groups, international, regional and national human rights bodies, donors and the news media. Our unique blend of scholarly research, teaching and expertise in knowledge translation and advocacy we have helped enhance policy design, implementation and practice in the fields of social assistance, child protection and early childhood development and have improved access and quality of services for millions of children and their caregivers. In addition, we are committed in upholding children’s right to participation and ensuring that children’s voices are heard in decisions affecting their lives.
Chronic Diseases Initiative for Africa
The Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa (CDIA) is a network of multidisciplinary researchers and policymakers drawn from three major tertiary academic institutions in Cape Town (University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University and University of the Western Cape), the South African Medical Research Council, Harvard University and representatives from local and national Departments of Health.
The Centre serves as a regional hub for developing and evaluating models of chronic disease care and the prevention of their risk factors.
Since the launch in November 2009, the CDIA network has expanded to include members from Malawi, Kenya and Botswana and locally from the University of Pretoria and the University of Witwatersrand. The Centre is part of an 11 centre Global Health Initiative (GRAND South) focussing on non-communicable disease research in the developing world that was initially funded by the United Health Chronic Disease Initiative and the National Heart Lung Blood Institute (NHLBI).
CDIA is involved in the postgraduate training of 7 local and 6 international students, registered at 5 national and international universities.
CDIA is unique in Africa in that it strives to connect scientists in an expanding collaborative network in order to optimize the contribution of the limited number of researchers on chronic diseases in the region. Our vision is the reductions of the burden of chronic diseases and their risk factors in Africa.
Drug Discovery and Development Research Unit (DDRU) (MRC/UCT)
The Drug Discovery and Development Research Unit DDRU is located at the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) at the Medical School of UCT. The unit is part of a drug discovery campaign that specialises in the use of innovative drug discovery tools for the development of drugs targeted for treatment of infectious & other endemic African diseases.
Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit
The mission of the Gender Health & Justice Research Unit (GHJRU) is to improve service provision to victims of violence against women in South Africa through research, advocacy and education. The unit draws together established researchers with a strong record of social-action research in disciplines including law, criminology, forensic sciences and pathology, gynaecology, and psychology.
Health Economics Unit
The Health Economics Unit (HEU) was established in early 1990 in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of Cape Town. The HEU works to improve the performance of health systems through informing health policy and enhancing technical and managerial capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its foundation is academic excellence in health economics and related health system issues.
HIV Mental Health Research Unit (HIV MHU)
The HIV Mental Health Research Unit (HIV MHU) is located in the Division of Neuropsychiatry, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health. The Unit's platform of clinical service, teaching and research, extending to numerous hospitals and clinics in greater Cape Town, was established in response to the growing recognition of the burden of mental disorders in people living with HIV – including depressive, anxiety, substance abuse and neurocognitive disorders. Our work is pioneering in the region, with our teaching and research programme supported by several large grant awards, and receives established international recognition.
Including Disability in Education in Africa Research Unit (IDEA)
The IDEA Research Unit is newly accredited initiative that has evolved from the university’s Teacher Empowerment for Disability Inclusion (TEDI) project , located in the Disability Studies Division of the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. The guiding principle of the IDEA unit is to contribute towards knowledge construction that supports global progress towards SDG4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” with a focus on disability inclusion, specifically (but not exclusively) on the African continent.
Inclusive Practices Africa Research Unit (IPARU)
The Inclusive Practices Africa Research Unit (IPARU) aims to reduce social inequity caused by disability. IPARU is a vibrant, dynamic group of researchers and academic staff at the University of Cape Town, who promote advocacy, conduct training and research, for improved practical outcomes for inclusion. We prioritise activities and practices for the inclusion of the most marginalised communities / groups with a particular focus on persons with disabilities. We achieve social change, through research-informed, engaged methodologies. IPARU co-develops and implements innovative practice by interacting with marginalised individuals, people living with disabilities, multisectoral organisations, service providers and interested community members. This informs how we influence attitudes and thinking to change mindsets to understanding disability inclusion.
Kidney Disease and Hypertension Research Unit (KHRU)
The Kidney and Hypertension Research Unit (KHRU) was recently established in 2016, and is situated within the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension. The Unit is a group of approximately 40 staff and students, who through their academic and clinical activities seek to reduce death rates and improve the quality of health of people with kidney disease and hypertension particularly in the Black population of South Africa. This would be in keeping with the strategic goal of the University of Cape Town namely expanding and enhancing South Africa’s Development Challenges.
Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit (MMRU)
Research in the MMRU, which was an extramural research unit of the SAMRC from 2011-2022, is focused on aspects of mycobacterial physiology and metabolism of relevance to TB drug discovery, drug resistance, and mycobacterial persistence. The MMRU’s research program on the aerobiology of TB transmission involves close collaboration with Robin Wood and team at the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation.
The MMRU’s research and training programs are supported by grants from the NIH, BMGF, Wellcome Leap, SAMRC, NRF and other agencies.
The team running the Africa Microscopy Initiative, led by Digby Warner, is closely associated with the MMRU.
MRC/UCT Human Genetics Research Unit
The Human Genetics Research Unit's current focus is on the genetics of colorectal cancer, inherited forms of blindness and neuropsychiatric diseases. Recent breakthroughs include identifying the genetic basis of retinitis pigmentosa and developing therapeutics to stem loss of vision in individuals shown to carry the disease causing mutation. A greater effort is being put into engaging with high throughput technologies and for the mapping of genes for common chronic disorders.
MRC/UCT Immunology of Infectious Diseases Unit
Human infectious diseases are a high-priority area for South Africa and Africa, where they continue to be a leading cause of childhood and adult morbidity and mortality. Thus, the MRC/UCT Immunology of Infectious Disease Research Unit focuses on understanding of host protective immune responses and the development of effective vaccine strategies for eradication of diseases which are identified as priority areas by the World Health Organisation: tuberculosis, leishmaniasis, helminthis diseases (bilharziosis) and African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness). The unit's mission is to be relevant as an excellent multidisciplinary and international team, embracing both basic and applied research, in order to improve capacity, teaching and training in the immunology of infectious diseases.
MRC/UCT Medical Imaging Research Unit
The mission of the MRC/UCT Medical Imaging Research Unit is to conduct world-class research in medical imaging that specifically addresses the healthcare needs of Africa. Research in the unit focuses on the role of medical imaging in healthcare problems such as brain and behaviour, trauma, cancer, tuberculosis, neuromuscular disorders, cardiovascular disease, and alcohol abuse. The unit has a multidisciplinary focus, attracting talented physicists, sports scientists, engineers, computer scientists and medical doctors.
MRC/UCT Precision and Genomic Medicine Research Unit
The SAMRC/UCT Precision and Genomic Medicine Research Unit (PGMRU) is interested in using the exciting developments in the field of genomic sciences to investigate human biodiversity. This quest will contribute to a more proactive and preventive approach to health. Tied closely to this quest is the expansion of research to cover genome-wide investigations pertaining to the burden of disease in Southern Africa and to assess the impact of genomic variants on the health of the indigenous populations of Africa.
MRC/UCT Unit on Child and Adolescent Health
The MRC Unit on Child & Adolescent Health undertakes translational research focused on priority childhood diseases including TB, pneumonia and HIV and the intersection of infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases such as asthma. Research integrates perspectives from basic, clinical and population science.
A flagship study is a longitudinal birth cohort study, the Drakenstein Child Health study, to investigate the antenatal and early life determinants of child health, with a focus on childhood pneumonia, and the impact of early infection on chronic disease. The unit is Directed by Prof Heather Zar, Head of the Department of Paediatrics & Child Health at UCT and Red Cross Childrens Hospital.
MRC/UCT/SU Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders
The Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders Research Unit - with key researchers at the University of Stellenbosch, the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Northwest University - researches anxiety and stress disorders. It is also involved in projects in related fields, including the Drakenstein Neurodevelopmental and Neuro-GAP studies.
Orthopaedic Research Unit (ORU)
The Orthopaedic Research Unit (ORU) aims to promote our clinicians, students and investigators to follow intriguing and unanswered research questions they have. We also want to make these answers available to our community to be able to improve their health care and change their lives. Our research facilities are both embedded within the hospital and integrated with Child Health, Infectious Disease, NHLS, and Biomechanics research institutes of UCT. The resulting platform enables experimental musculoskeletal research, translational research, clinical trials and healthcare delivery to be undertaken in close proximity. The partnership is underpinned by one of the most productive academic research environments in Africa. Clinical medicine research activity has more than doubled over the last five years at the Orthopaedic Department. Basic science is further supported by internationally leading departmental programmes, such as Microbiology, Pathology, Genetics, and Biomedical Engineering. This creates an ideal setting for the dynamic inter-thematic research and encouraging a network within which to conduct musculoskeletal research.
Research Centre for Adolescent and Child Health (REACH)
The Research Centre for Adolescent and Child Health (REACH) is a paediatric clinical research unit within the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, based at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCH). Opened in October 2013, it follows a decade of successful clinical research at RCH. The centre comprises 80 staff members funded through grant support, is involved in the training of 48 postgraduate students (18 masters, 25 doctoral and 5 post-doctoral) and is host to several African healthcare professionals, building clinical and research capacity to improve child health in Africa. The research program is locally responsive, addressing national priorities such as HIV, TB and childhood pneumonia as well as globally relevant, fostering international, national and local collaborations. Directed by Prof Heather Zar, this centre is a remarkable partnership between RCH, the Western Cape Health Department and the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, UCT.
Medical Biotechnology and Immunotherapy Research Unit (MB &I)
The Medical Biotechnology and Immunotherapy Research Unit (MB&I) aims to develop tailor-made immunodiagnostics and immunotherapeutics based on increasing knowledge of disease development. The main targets of these agents are specific receptors overexpressed on the surface of diseased cells (CSRs) to discriminate between transformed and normal cells. Antibodies, which specifically bind to these CSRs, represent the largest class of approved immunotherapeutic agents. Using a biotechnological toolset, MB&I is rationally designing innovative antibody fusion proteins by protein engineering and production in different hosts of expression (bacteria, yeast, mammalian cells).