START: Health & Bio Sciences

START: Health & Bio Sciences aims to establish and maintain a coherent network of Structural Biology researchers in South Africa, which will become a hub for researchers across the African continent. Our research aims are underpinned by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, helping us find African solutions to challenges that we experience on our continent, such as disease, food insecurity, access to medicines, STEM education, and climate change. Our communities will not experience development and prosperity unless we tackle these issues locally.”

Professor Trevor Sewell, University of Cape Town 
Ana Ebrecht (L) & Naadia van der Bergh at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Photo credit Lerato Maduna. ©University of Cape Town

Understanding biological systems is critical to the prosperity, and possibly, survival of humanity. Without it, we are threatened by disease, energy and food insecurity, pollution, and climate change. Studying biological macromolecules such as proteins – at atomic resolution – empowers us to develop drugs, vaccines, and green technologies. 

START Heath & Bio Sciences builds on the legacy of START to establish a long-lasting strategic vision for improving Health and Bio Sciences research in Africa. Through access to the best equipment, analysis techniques and training, the vision of START: Health & Bio Sciences is to empower the next generation of research leaders, and to exploit and extend synchrotron-based techniques for the benefit of Africa and beyond.

Structural biologists unravel the intricacies of protein and other biological structures using highly brilliant synchrotron radiation in a technique called X-ray crystallography or by cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). These structures form the basis for developing a variety of products including; new drugs or vaccines to stop diseases, novel agrochemicals and sustainable, environmentally-safe industrial processes.  

“Our collaboration has allowed us to gain new skills and experience that has fast-tracked our research programme in antimicrobial drug discovery, and this investment is already paying forward as new students are being trained.”

Professor Erick Strauss, Strauss Laboratory, Stellenbosch University, South Africa  

“Collaborating with the grant, provides me with the opportunity to contribute to Global challenges in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for creating a better future for all. As one of the first students to enrol for a PhD in science in my village, I am so grateful to do research that impacts human lives. It has given us a platform for learning in Structural Biology aspects, conducting experiments, associating with other scientists, and access to Diamond Light Source.”

— Vukosi Edwin Munyai, University of Pretoria, South Africa

1 Chris Nicklin, Rebekka Stredwick & Trevor Sewell (2022) Synchrotron Techniques for African Research and Technology: A Step-Change in Structural Biology and Energy Materials, Synchrotron Radiation News, 35:1, 14-19, DOI: 10.1080/08940886.2022.2043684