Meet the members that are striving to address the current challenges facing patients with gynaecological cancer under the guidance and leadership of some of the brightest minds and most experienced professors and doctors.

Professor Lynette Denny, Director

Director: SA Medical Research Council Gynaecological Cancer Research, UCT and Professor: Special Projects in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

I am a gynaecologic oncologist and have been working in the field of cervical cancer prevention in collaboration with colleagues from Columbia University, New York since 1995. We began our collaboration with the intention of evaluating alternative strategies for the prevention of cervical cancer in low resource settings. Cervical cancer was and remains the commonest cancer diagnosed among women living in poor countries due to the failure to either initiate or sustain cytology based screening programs. Our group pioneered the search for alternative protocols for the prevention of cervical cancer in community-based research sites in townships just outside of Cape Town. Since that time

I have had extensive research experience in cervical cancer prevention, including three cross-sectional studies comparing different screening tests (such as HPV testing and VIA to cytology), a prophylactic HPV vaccine trial in HIV positive women and a therapeutic vaccine trial in HPV negative women. We are currently engaged in a NCI funded trial evaluating screen and treat with the HPV Xpert Cepheid HPV test. I am still fully functional as a clinician in all aspects of gynaecology oncology and have recently been appointed the director of the SA Medical Research Council Gynaecological Cancer Research Centre, with 5 years of guaranteed funding.

Professor Jennifer Moodley, Deputy Director

Professor and Director of the Cancer Research Initiative: Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT
South Africa Women’s Health Research Unit, School of Public Health and Family Medicine.

Jennifer is a Public Health Medicine physician with expertise in health systems research, epidemiology and public policy development. She has worked as a clinician in rural and urban health care settings and has first-hand experience of the challenges in providing health care in resource-constrained environments. Jennifer has been involved in the development and implementation of diverse public health programs and policies; conducted health systems research to support provincial public health objectives and trained under- and post-graduates to meet similar responsibilities. As Director of Cancer Research in the Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT, her responsibilities include the development of a comprehensive, integrated cancer research program and translation of research into clinical and public health benefit.

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women in Sub-Saharan Africa and much of her work has focused on the prevention and control of cervical cancer. This includes research on: programmatic challenges in secondary prevention of cervical cancer; formative and cost-effectiveness research on the implementation of an HPV vaccination program; epidemiological research on the association between human immunodeficiency virus, human papillomavirus, cervical cancer precursors and cervical cancer in South Africa. Her research interests include understanding pathways to care with a view to improving the timely diagnosis of cancer. Jennifer values the importance of multi-disciplinary teams in addressing public health issues and is committed to social development and translating research into policy and practice. She has served as a technical advisor to World Health Organization (WHO) on Sexual and Reproductive Health Programmes and on HPV Vaccine Implementation. Jennifer has served on the first Ministerial Advisory Committee on the Prevention and Control of Cancer (MACC) and chaired the MACC cancer research- working group.

You may contact her if you have any questions regarding qualitative research within the GCRC.

Professor Arieh Katz, Financial Director: SAMRC/UCT GCRC

Division of Medical Biochemistry and Structural Biology, Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences, UCT

Arieh Katz received his Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel in 1990. Thereafter, he moved to California Institute of Technology, U.S.A. for post-doctoral training in the laboratory of Professor Melvin I. Simon. There, he spent 4 years working on the identification and characterization of G-protein subunits which activate phosphoinositide specific phospholipase C (PI-PLC) and showed that the Gβγ subunits, as well as certain Gα subunits, activate PI-PLC. In 1995, Arieh Katz moved to the Department of Chemical Pathology at University of Cape Town to join the research group of Professor R.P. Millar. There, he got involved in studying the GnRH receptor which is a G protein-coupled receptor that signals via PI-PLC. In 1997 Arieh Katz was awarded a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship in Medical Science which enabled him to set up his own research group and in 1998 Arieh Katz joined the Division of Medical Biochemistry. His research group studies GPCRs that are involved in diseases prevalent in South Africa. In particular, PGE2 receptors and their role in cervical cancer, including studying the effect of seminal plasma prostaglandins on cervical cancer development. His group also studies KSHV vGPCR and the KSHV host receptor EpHA2 and their role in KS prevalence and severity. In addition, his group studies the role of Kisspeptin in pregnancy.

Professor Anna-Lise Williamson

Professor of Vaccinology, UCT

Anna-Lise Williamson graduated with a PhD from University of Witwatersrand in 1985 while working at the Veterinary Research Institute at Onderstepoort. In 1987 she moved to University of Cape Town where she remained on the joint staff UCT and NHLS until 2017 when she changed to UCT conditions of service. Since 2008 she has held a SARChI research chair in vaccinology and is actively training post-graduate students.

Anna-Lise Williamson is internationally recognized in two major areas of research. The first is in the field of human papillomavirus (HPV) and the second is vaccinology with an emphasis on the development of novel vaccines. Cervical cancer - one of the most important cancers in Africa, as elsewhere in the developing world - is caused by specific types of HPV. Anna-Lise Williamson’s present research is aimed at providing data to support HPV vaccine introduction in South Africa, as well as understanding the factors influencing infection and persistence of HPV. As HIV and HPV are both the cause of major public health problems in SA, she has developed a specific interest in the impact of HIV infection on HPV, and have established her lab as an important world centre of expertise in the area. Anna-Lise Williamson directed the multidisciplinary team, of up to 40 people, that got two locally developed HIV vaccines into clinical trials: this required leadership skills that not only ensured that they had delivery of what was required from the laboratory at UCT, but also involved presentations to the National Institutes of Health in the USA to obtain funding for manufacture and toxicity testing of the vaccines. Once manufactured, further interaction took place with the HIV Vaccine Trials Network to take the vaccines into clinical trials lead by Glenda Gray and Gavin Churchyard. This was a high-level biotechnology project which took products from concept all the way to clinical trial.

There are only a limited number of University-based research groups that have achieved this internationally, and as far as we know, there are none in Africa that have achieved this level of success. She has a number of vaccine patents. She is also working on a number of veterinary vaccine projects.

Dr Hue Tsi Wu

Division of Anatomical Pathology, UCT

Dr Hue-Tsi Wu is an anatomical pathologist who has worked as a Senior Lecturer/Principal Specialist at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and National Health Laboratory Service - Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH) since 2009. He studied MB BCh at WITS, and specialised in Anatomical Pathology at UCT. He is also a fellow at the Royal College of Pathologists, United Kingdom. He convenes the introductory Language of Medicine course for second year medical students at UCT.

He is an examiner at the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa and also serves on the clinical expert advisory panel for the Council for Medical Schemes. His research interests include all aspects of gynaecological pathology, particularly pre-Invasive and invasive cervical cancer. He is married with a son and a daughter and enjoys reading.

Dr Rakiya Saidu

Dept Obstetrics & Gynaecology, UCT

I am a trained Gynaecologist from Nigeria and currently doing a PhD under the supervision of Prof Lynette Denny, in the University of Cape Town. I am committed to cancer research in particular female genital tract cancers and HPV related cancers, with a special interest in translational research. Within the and limited research training and resources in Nigeria, I have authored/co-authored many publications in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. My PhD thesis is on the immunology of vulvar cancer, aimed at evaluating the prognostic role and importance of immune cells, both innate and adaptive immune cells in vulvar cancer, in addition to the prognostic importance of HPV and P16 status of in vulvar cancer in South Africa. The thesis is at completion stages.

I am also currently the Lead Clinician on the NCI funded research project, Implementing HPV DNA testing to improve specificity for cervical cancer prevention in South Africa (UH2 CA 189908/UH3 CA 189908). The principal investigators on this study are Prof Lynette Denny (University of Cape Town) and Prof Louise Kuhn (Columbia University, New York). We have recruited over 4000 women. I have been an active member of the South African Medical Council Gynaecological Cancer Research Centre (SAMRC GCRC) since the inception of the centre in 2015, working and collaborating with basic scientists and public health specialist.

Dr Linda Rogers

Gynaecological Oncologist, UCT

Linda Rogers is a Gynaecological Oncologist who has worked as a Senior Lecturer/Specialist at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH) since 2009. She studied MBChB at UCT, and specialised in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at GSH.

She sub-specialised in Gynaecological Oncology at GSH and in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Her research interests include all aspects of Vulval Disease, and particularly the management of Pre-Invasive and Invasive Vulval Disease, as well as the role of imaging in the staging of Cervical Cancer, and she has several first author publications, including a Cochrane Review, on these subjects. She is a member of SASGO, and is co-editor of the South African Journal of Gynaecological Oncology (SAJGO). She is married with two small daughters, and enjoys reading, hiking, and travelling.

Dr Zizipho Z.A Mbulawa

Division of Virology, Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital, Mthatha

Dr Zizipho Z.A Mbulawa is a medical scientist at the National Health Laboratory Service Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital, and a joint staff member of Walter Sisulu University Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Mthatha, Eastern Cape Province. She is registered by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) as a medical scientist under the virology discipline. Zizipho Mbulawa has expertise in the molecular epidemiology of Human papillomavirus (HPV) and immune response to HPV.

Her research has focused on the impact of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) co-infection on HPV infection, transmission and natural history on women, adolescents and heterosexual couples which included HIV-positive concordant, HIV discordant and HIV-negative couples and has yielded novel and significant information on HPV natural history; significantly increasing understanding of the impact of HIV infection on HPV and disease caused by HPV. She also focused on HPV surveillance among unvaccinated women from general community and women with cervical abnormalities as this is important to both inform vaccination campaigns as well as to monitor the impact on HPV types after vaccination. She’s a collaborator on number of projects with both national and international researchers on HPV field. Dr Zizipho Mbulawa is rated by National Research Foundation in Y2 category. Her publication can be found on this link.

Ongoing research

  • A study of the feasibility of the introduction of a Swedish HPV test for the management and prevention of cervical disease in the Eastern Cape

  • Human papillomavirus awareness and investigation of HPV prevalence in high school learners of Engcobo, Eastern Cape

  • Surveillance of HPV genotypes among patients attending hospital facilities with high-grade lesions, including cervical cancer in South Africa

Dr Jo-Ann Passmore

Division of Virology, UCT

Jo-Ann Passmore, PhD, is a Principal Medical Scientist with the National Health Laboratory Services, and Associate Professor in the Division of Medical Virology, Institute for Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town (UCT). Her research focuses on studying genital tract adaptive and innate immune responses associated with protection from, or susceptibility to, sexually transmitted infections, including HPV and HIV.

Her special interest is Vitamin D deficiency in reproductive health, biomarkers for susceptibility HPV disease progression and cancer, including the role of secreted inflammatory molecules, genital immune activation and HPV-specific immune responses present in the female genital tract in advancing disease pathogenesis.

Professor Ed Rybicki

Director, Biopharming Research Unit; Professor in Microbiology, UCT

I have the requisite training and experience to fulfill my end of the proposed research project. My expertise is in molecular virology and plant and vaccine-related molecular biotechnology. I have more than 30 years of experience as a PI on national and internationally-funded projects, and recently led a UCT BRU team major project on plant production of novel HPV vaccines, funded by Medicago Inc. (Quebec. I am presently funded by the South African MRC for subunit HIV vaccine development, and by Medicago for plant-made vaccines for emerging virus diseases.

I have expertise in a number of vaccine and expression system platforms, including novel DNA vaccines, and insect cell / baculovirus and particularly in transient plant expression platforms. I have extensive experience in molecular virology and virus diversity studies as well as in producing candidate vaccine antigens: this includes HIV-1C Gag- and Env-derived proteins, HPV antigens, human rotavirus and bluetongue virus and avian Beak and feather disease virus capsid proteins, and avian and human influenza virus haemagglutinins. We have produced enzymes for molecular biology / diagnostics, as well as single chain variable region monoclonal antibodies in plants. The proposed project fits very well into the portfolio of work that my Unit is currently involved in.

Dr Tracey Adams

Gynaecological Oncologist, UCT

Tracey Sheridan Adams is a clinician, specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and a subspecialist in Gynaecological Oncology. She is involved in both undergraduate medical training and postgraduate teaching and surgical training for both registrars and gynaecological oncology subspecialist trainees.

Her passion lies in ovarian cancer and the better genetic understanding of differences in survival of ovarian cancer patients. She also has a keen interest in HPV associated disease in HIV positive women and multifocal intra-epithelial neoplasia. Other research interests include perioperative medicine and improving surgical outcomes. She is a member of SASGO and IGCS. Hobbies include running, hiking and she enjoys reading and music.

Professor Virna Leaner

Division of Medical Biochemistry and Structural Biology, Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences

Virna Leaner is a Biomedical Researcher in the Division of Medical Biochemistry and Structural Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT. She obtained her PhD in Medical Biochemistry at the University of Cape Town after which she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, USA. She returned to UCT in 2004 having obtained an SAMRC/Career Development Award and an academic appointment in the Division of Medical Biochemistry.

She currently leads a research team with an interest in identifying cancer biomarkers and therapeutic targets. Her primary focus is on identifying biomarkers for cancers that are prevalent in South Africa, including cervical cancer amongst other gynaecological cancers. Her research has led to the identification of nuclear transport pathways that are critical for the growth and survival of cancer cells. A series of small molecules that have potential anticancer application are also under investigation. These molecules inhibit the proliferation of cervical and other cancer types by inhibiting nuclear import pathways. Currently, her group is investigating the mechanism of action associated with the cancer cell killing effects of the small molecules. 

Dr Nazia Fakie

Radiation Oncologist, UCT

Dr Nazia Fakie is a clinical oncologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Groote Schuur Hospital. She heads the Gynae Oncology Portfolio since 2017.

She has a special interest in cervix, uterine cancers, as well as Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia.

Dr Fakie also has a keen interest in survivorship and has been involved in numerous projects to improve patient care post cancer treatment.  She is also actively involved in research (local and international) concerning gynaecological cancers.

Dr Sikhumbuzo Mabunda

Public Health Medicine Specialist

Dr Sikhumbuzo Advisor Mabunda is a CEO and Clinical Manager at Nkangala District in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province and a visiting lecturer at Walter Sisulu University (WSU). Until June 2018 he spent 3 years as a Public Health Medicine Specialist at Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape. He received his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBChB) and his Public Health Medicine (MMED Public Health) degrees at the University of Cape Town. Growing up in rural South Africa opened his eyes to the effects of inequities on society. His vision is therefore to assist the Government in its strategy to ensure a functional health system. He is a firm believer that health is a human right and will do all possible to assist the Government in ensuring the attainment of an equitable access to healthcare for all citizens. He is also a recipient of the University of New South Wales (Sydney) Scientia Scholarship for 2019.

Other than having experience of working in an academic institution teaching Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research, he has extensive understanding of South Africa’s healthcare system having worked as a clinician in several public hospitals and clinics in Mpumalanga and in several roles in the Western Cape Health system. His passion is human resources for health and continuously strives to research the development of models for recruiting and retaining health professionals from and into peripheral communities. He has knowledge of developing staffing norms, hospitals’ business plan and the commissioning of a hospital. His quantitative research skills give him much needed skill in Strengthening Research capacity through the use of appropriate study design in answering a health related challenge. He has publications in peer reviewed articles on health systems, Tuberculosis and Human Resources for Health.

Dr Zukiswa Jafta

Radiation Oncology, Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital

A Clinical and Radiation oncologist at Nelson Mandela Academic hospital since Feb 2018. I have set up an oncology unit outpatient at Mthatha. It provides chemotherapy and is staffed with 6 oncology trained nurses, 4 medical officers, 1 adminstrator, 1 PA. It provides chemotherapy, triaging patients for radiotherapy, supportive and palliative care. I then also offer radiotherapy at Frere hospital for these mthatha patients.

Her special interest is in the effect of HIV in cancers especially women cancers.

Dr Nomonde Mbatani

Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, UCT

Dr Nwabisa Giyose

Gynaecological Oncologist, Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital  and WSU

Dr Giyose is a sub specialist in gynaecologic oncology at NMAH, Mthatha and is responsible for the surgical management of women with cervical cancer,ovarian cancer, vulval cancer, uterine cancer, premalignant disease and for benign gynaecologic conditions. She assesses and devises a management plan for patients with confirmed and suspected gynaecological malignancies who are referred to Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital from peripheral hospitals, clinics and other departments within the hospital.

She also runs the gynae-oncology weekly assessment clinics for patients with newly diagnosed with gynaecologic malignancies, and Surveillance clinic for patients who have completed treatment for cancer.  Dr Giyose also manages a weekly colposcopy clinic for patients who have abnormal cervical cytology who cannot be managed by a general gynaecologist.

Dr Mfundo Mfeketshane

Gynaecological Oncologist, Frere Hospital, East London

I am currently involved in colposcopy training and outreach programmes in the most rural parts of the Eastern Cape.

I am in the process of finalizing a paper for publication entitled “Maternal deaths amongst HIV infected and AIDS patients in the Eastern Cape facilities: Jan 2014 – April 2016”.
I previously completed my MMED thesis and Gynae-oncology certificate thesis:
1. MMED thesis: The Effect of Misoprostol on fetal heart rate parameters during induction of labour from 38 weeks gestation; 2013
2. Gynae-oncology certificate thesis: Lymphnode metastasis risk in endometrial cancer (Tygerberg Hospital experience); 2016.

Dr Sibongile Mandondo

District specialist
Obstetrics and gynaecology East London

Dr Olivia Carulei

Postdoctoral Fellow - Carnegie DEAL2 Programme

I completed my BSc at UCT majoring in genetics and physiology followed by my BSc Med Hons in Infectious Diseases and Immunology.  I then upgraded from Msc to PhD and was awarded my doctorate under the supervision of Prof. Anna-Lise Williamson in the Division of Medical Virology at UCT in 2018. 

My PhD thesis describes the genome sequences of two, novel, South African avian poxviruses isolated from an African penguin and a Lesser flamingo and identified large regions of difference between viral species found in the central region of the genome which was previously thought to be highly conserved. These findings could have implications for the design and construction of avian poxvirus vaccine vectors in terms of insertion of foreign genes into genetically stable regions of the genome.  Other poxvirus research included characterisation of host gene expression in the spleens of mice inoculated intravenously with poxviruses from three different genera including two novel avian poxviruses characterised by our research group.  This work showed that the different viruses produced different responses in a mouse model which may affect the immune response induced to vaccine antigen in vectors based on these viruses.

My work on large DNA viruses continued in 2019 with co-supervision of PhD candidate Sandy Baloyi who sequenced and described the genomes of five novel African swine fever isolates.  In 2019, I also joined Prof. Williamsons HPV research group and have been working on the analysis of cervical/vaginal viromes of HIV+ and HIV- women with HPV from the Eastern Cape.  This work is being done in conjunction with Dr Harris Onywera who is characterising the cervical microbiomes of the same cohort of women. 

My areas of expertise include QC, assembly, annotation, and comparative genomics of viral genomes based on NGS data from different sequencing platforms including 454, Illumina and Ion Torrent.  Poxviruses and African swine fever viruses have large, complex genomes (150-300kb and 150 - 300 genes) that include identical inverted terminal repeats and large multi-gene families which can significantly complicate assembly and annotation. I have optimised viral DNA extraction protocols from heavily host contaminated samples and have experience in the design of gene expression experiments and analysis of microarray data as well as ongoing virome analysis.

Prof. Sharon Prince

Head: Department of Human Biology, UCT

Sharon Prince is a Professor in Cell Biology and Head of the Department of Human Biology at the University of Cape Town (UCT). She obtained a BSc degree, a BSc (Hons) degree with distinction and a PhD in Cell Biology, all from UCT. Following her PhD, Sharon’s research was initiated through a prestigious Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral fellowship, which enabled her to spend time at the Marie Curie Research Institute in the United Kingdom in the laboratory of Professor Colin Goding. On her return to South Africa in 2002, she established an independent research programme in cancer biology at UCT.

Sharon is an internationally renowned researcher in the field of cancer biology where she has made significant contributions to the understanding of the role and regulation of the developmentally crucial T-box transcription factors, TBX2 and TBX3, in cancer. Indeed, she is well recognised nationally and internationally as a leader in the field of T-box transcription factors and their role in cancer aetiology. Her international reputation rests on her pioneering work which identified the potential of T-box factors as novel targets in the development of effective anticancer therapeutics. In addition, her laboratory also investigates the use of organometallic compounds as cancer drugs, and the repurposing of existing non-cancer drugs for cancer therapies. Some of the cancers that Sharon’s laboratory has focused on include melanoma, sarcoma, breast, pancreatic, and cervical cancer. Her research group has established that TBX3 has tumour promoting functions in HPV positive cervical cancer but tumour suppressor activity in HPV negative cervical cancer. They are currently investigating the cooperation of TBX3 with the HPV oncoproteins, E6 and E7, and have combined a targeted approach with a drug repurposing approach to identify commercially available drugs that target this important signalling axis to treat cervical cancer.

Sharon has received several awards and recognitions for her academic scholarship. Indeed, she received the NRF Hamilton Naki award in 2021, was recognised by UCT as one of its leading women innovators in 2018, was elected a member of The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in 2017 and received the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Fellowship in 2019 and 2011 and the Harry Crossley Senior Clinical Fellowship in 2010.

Dr Stefan Barth

Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT

Tier 1 South African Research Chair in Cancer Biotechnology, Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences, Executive Director of Medical Biotechnology & Immunotherapy Research Unit, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT.

My research group investigates pharmaceutically relevant fusion proteins binding to disease-specific cell surface markers with the overarching goal of providing innovative approaches for selective identification and elimination of diseases relevant to the African continent. The main characteristics of these novel recombinant agents are: a) disease-specific activities, b) reduced unspecific side effects, and c) reduced immunogenicity.

During the last > 25 years of work in the field of medical biotechnology I successfully successfully applied for about 60 funded projects in Germany, 13 in South Africa, and 1 in Brazil. Wrote 204 peer-reviewed publications (ORCHID), with a cumulative total IF of ~940 (h-Index; 39,i10.index: 144) with >270.000 downloads from journal homepages, >38.000 reads in Research Gate and >5.7000 citations in Google Scholar.  I have supervised 232 students, excluding 27 PG students supported in 2022. 

Dr Mana Mdaka

Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Dr Bothwell Guzha

Gynae Oncologist

Dr Nondumiso Ngxola

Urogynaecology, Frere Hospital, East London

Dr Dominic Richards

Gynaecological Oncologist