SA scientist wins US research grant

3 October 2012

The University of Cape Town’s Professor Valerie Mizrahi was one of only 13 science researchers in the world to receive a Senior International Research Scholar (SIRS) award from American non-profit organisation Howard Hughes Medical Institute last week.

Mizrahi is the director of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine at UCT and is studying the organism that causes human tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

The institute looks to understand metabolic flexibility and identify vulnerabilities within the disease in order to discover new drugs to combat the disease.

Furthering biomedical research

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) International Programme supports scientists working in countries outside the United States where further basic biomedical research can be furthered.

The SIRS programme is the latest of the institute’s policies to assist scientists around the world and aims to strengthen the global network of biomedical researchers.

Each senior research scholar will receive an annual grant of US$100 000 for five years and will get the opportunity to present their research at HHMI, which will facilitate the exchange of new ideas, stimulate research and allow for collaboration.

“These senior international research scholars are world leaders in their research areas. They will complement our efforts to support international early career scientists in a positive way,” HHMI’s vice president and chief scientific officer, Jack Dixon, said in a statement.

Mentoring the next generation of scientists

“Scientific research is a global endeavour, and these grants will provide an opportunity for these highly creative and accomplished scientists to explore new avenues of biomedical research and to mentor promising early career scientists across the world,” said HHMI president, Robert Tjian.

The opportunity to mentor young scientists falls under the institute’s new initiative, the International Early Career Scientist Programme, which provides funding for a select group of scientists who are in the early stages of their careers and working outside the United States.

It was launched earlier this year.

“What inspired me is the focus on mentoring early career scientists,” Mizrahi said. “That’s where my passion is and that’s what I want to throw my energy into.”

Mizrahi has won numerous other awards through the course of her work, including the 2000 UNESCO-L’Oreal for Women in Science, the 2006 Distinguished Woman Scientist Award from the Science and Technology Department and the Order of the Mapungubwe: Silver for contributions to biochemistry and molecular biology in the country.

She was also elected into the Fellowship of the American Academy of Microbiology and given an ‘A’ rating by the National Rearch Foundation in 2009.

SAinfo reporter