HEALTH SCIENCES > DEAN'S REPORT

The research enterprise of the Faculty continues to be acknowledged globally, nationally and locally for its excellence. We are the only Health Sciences Faculty in Africa that has been listed in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings in the field of Life Sciences and Biomedicine. In 2009 we were listed at 119, up from 148 in 2008. The next South African university in this category in 2009 was rated at 277.

At a national level, our research publication output in accredited journals has consistently exceeded that from any of the other universities. In 2008 we exceeded 300 units for the first time, and in 2009 we increased this by more than 10 per cent to reach 370 units. This figure is approximately 70 per cent more than that which was achieved five years ago. An analysis of the 2009 publications (where the UCT author is either the first or last author) indicates that most are in international journals and that they are of an exceptionally high quality, with at least 5 per cent in journals with an Impact Factor of more than 10, and 25 per cent in journals with an Impact Factor of more than 4. In addition, thirteen of the top 20 authors of journal articles at UCT for the period 2005–2009 are from the Faculty. Approximately 35 per cent of our publications are from members of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IIDMM), which was officially launched in 2005.

In 2009, the Faculty generated more than R325 million in new research funding, which amounts to approximately 40 per cent of the University’s total income. Faculty research income has almost doubled in the last five years and this has been largely due to income generated by members of the IIDMM. The major funders in 2009 included the National Institutes of Health, Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation, Wellcome Trust and the European Union. The South African Medical Research Council (MRC) and National Research Foundation accounted for five and twelve per cent of income respectively and the pharmaceutical industry for just under five per cent. Our Faculty is also in the fortunate position of having approximately R7.5 million annually in discretionary funding, provided by a University block grant (R1.5 million) and income from investment and trusts (R6 million), that enables us to support strategically important initiatives including postdoctoral fellowships, MRC Career Development Awards and undergraduate research.

The number of students who registered for postgraduate studies increased by almost 40 per cent from 1066 in 2006 to 1481 in 2009. Most (625) were registered for master’s degrees, including about 350 medical registrars (MMed). Of particular note is the increase in the number of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows over the last five years; 235 and 47 registered in 2009. The majority of the postdoctoral fellows (31) were attached to members of the IIDMM.

Our Faculty was very successful in securing nine of the 20 Discovery Health Foundation Clinical Research Fellowships awards in 2009. This new and exciting initiative, launched in 2007, will play an important role in developing our physician-scientists. In addition, the Department of Medicine received a Discovery Foundation Excellence Award for training academic clinicians through research.

A hallmark of the research in the Faculty is the integration of the basic, clinical and public health disciplines into a variety of cross-cutting, multidisciplinary programmes. Much of this work is done in 21 of the 62 University accredited research entities housed in the Faculty. The 21 groups include nine MRC units. In the past year, four research groups underwent peer-review, and in all cases, the groups were complimented for their excellent work. In addition, during the year the UCT/MRC Exercise Research Unit was made a FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence and selected as one of four International Olympic Committee Research Centres worldwide. The Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health Research was also re-accredited as a WHO Co-ordinating Centre and the Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Unit was upgraded and is now called the Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research. 2009 also saw the launch of the Chronic Diseases Initiative, located in the Department of Medicine, with significant funding from the NIH.

A number of individuals and groups achieved significant recognition for their research outputs at a national and international level. It would be an impossible task to list all the achievements in this short introduction. Nevertheless, one that stands out and that epitomises our approach to translational research is that of the SA Aids Vaccine Initiative’s (SAAVI) HIV vaccine programme. In the year under review, two HIV vaccines developed at UCT have begun clinical testing in Crossroads, Cape Town, and at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Soweto, and in the USA. The trial, called SAAVI 102/HVTN 073, is being conducted jointly with the HIV Vaccine Trials Network and the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which forms part of the US National Institutes of Health.

Above all, from bench to field, our research endeavours are closely aligned with the national health priorities and burden of disease, and every effort is made to ensure that the products of our research are translated into recommendations for action in the wider health sector.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to the research community in the Faculty of Health Sciences for their excellent work in the past year, and acknowledge the support of the members of the Faculty Research Committee and the Faculty Human and Animal Ethics committees. We also express our appreciation to all the administrative and financial support staff in the Faculty and in the central research directorate for their excellent back-up and support, and we thank our funders and collaborators for their ongoing interest and belief in our work.

In 2009 we reviewed our research strategy and, in the coming years, we plan to increase our research productivity and outputs, as well as the quality and integrity of our research. Central to this will be the initiation of a number of innovative research activities and the promotion of collaboration amongst disciplines, departments, units and staff in the Faculty, with disciplines and colleagues from other faculties at UCT, and with academics at other universities nationally, on the African continent and internationally. Through these initiatives, we will contribute to raising the global profile of the Faculty and the University.

Professor Marian Jacobs
Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences

 

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