FEB 24, 2016 03:00 PM PST

Bringing precision medicine in oncology to South Africa

  • Research Professor Division of Chemical Systems & Synthetic Biology Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences, University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences
      Musa M. Mhlanga (USA citizen), American-born male cell biologist, holds a PhD in cell biology & molecular genetics from New York University School of Medicine (2003). He began his PhD at The Rockefeller University in the laboratory of David Ho where he worked on spectral genotyping of human alleles. He then went on to work on the development of in vitro and in vivo applications of molecular beacons for their use in visualizing RNA in living cells with Fred Russell Kramer and Sanjay Tyagi at New York University School of Medicine. Upon completion of his doctoral work he was awarded a U.S. National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellowship at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France to work in the laboratory of nuclear cell biology. There he worked on RNA transport and single molecule visualization and tracking of RNA in living cells. In late 2008 he moved his lab to South Africa to join the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research as the Research Leader of the Synthetic Biology Emerging Research Area. He heads the Laboratory for Gene Expression & Biophysics and holds a joint appointment to the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Lisbon, Portugal. His laboratory works on gene regulation, host-pathogen interactions, single molecule imaging of gene expression and the development of cell-based visual high-throughput biology techniques for screening in basic and clinical biology.


    The greatest health epidemic of our time is cancer. Deaths from cancer worldwide outnumber the combined deaths from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by a wide margin. There are at least 100 000 new cases of cancer per year in South Africa ( 2009 numbers, most likely a gross underestimate). The people of Africa, and especially southern Africa, have the greatest degree of genetic diversity in the world. Yet nearly all cancer research occurs outside Africa on non-African patients. Over half of the approximately 8 million deaths from cancer in 2008 occurred in populations in the developing world and this is expected to increase to over two thirds in the next 20 years. As cancer is a molecular disease with a genetic etiology that differs significantly from individual to individual, its treatment has catalyzed the emergence of precision medicine.

    Learning Objectives:
    1.      Describe the importance of african genetic diversity in cancer diagnosis and care
    2.      Describe the benefits are obtained of using "living biobanks" of organoids for drug screening 

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