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UKZN biochemistry researcher heads to Germany for Nobel Laureate Meeting

Dr Alexandre Delport, a postdoctoral researcher in biochemistry at UKZN, is one of only 11 South African scientists selected to attend the prestigious annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Photograph: Supplied.

Dr Alexandre Delport, a postdoctoral researcher in biochemistry at UKZN, is one of only 11 South African scientists selected to attend the prestigious annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Photograph: Supplied.

Published Jun 30, 2022

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By Christine Cuenod

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Dr Alexandre Delport, a postdoctoral researcher in biochemistry at UKZN, is one of only 11 South African scientists selected for the honour of travelling to Germany for the annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting taking place at the end of June 2022.

Dedicated to the field of chemistry, this meeting provides a platform for about 35 Nobel Laureates to present their research, reflect on their careers and engage with 600 young scientists selected to attend from all over the world. Attendees will include undergraduates, PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers representing diverse nationalities, generations, cultures and disciplines.

More than 200 leading science and research institutions worldwide that are official academic partners of the Lindau Meetings identify the participants in their countries. Delport was selected by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) for the opportunity to benefit from in-depth exchanges with Nobel Laureates during the six-day programme, and is the only selectee from UKZN.

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Delport is pursuing her postdoctoral research under the supervision of Professor Raymond Hewer in the School of Life Sciences (SLS). She is investigating the amyloid precursor protein (APP) - particularly the hindrance of amyloid beta (Aβ) derived from APP that forms the bulk of the amyloid plaques found in the brains of people suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Delport is focusing on protein degradation, using natural pathways to target and remove APP.

This work builds on the research Delport undertook for her PhD, also under the supervision of Hewer, who is an alumnus of the Lindau programme and encouraged her to apply.

Her PhD research, which won her the 2020 Research Excellence Award for Next Generation Researchers from the National Research Foundation (NRF), involved identifying ligands that can bind the APP and which could be used to formulate degraders for the protein. During her PhD studies, Delport also visited the Technical University of Kaiserslautern, funded by the NRF-German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) In-Country Scholarship. Here she spent time in the laboratory of Professor Stefan Kins, a renowned expert in neurodegenerative disease and biochemistry.

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With a patent pending, provisional seed funding from the Technology Innovation Agency, and interest from local pharmaceutical companies in the results of her research, Delport is taking this research to the pre-clinical stage to develop potential treatments for APP-related disease. She has published five papers from her PhD research and two from her postdoctoral work.

Having pursued all of her studies at UKZN in Pietermaritzburg, Delport is drawn to an academic career and particularly enjoys the laboratory work that her vocation involves. She chose to study biological sciences at UKZN because of the university’s proximity to her family. The popular Introductory Biochemistry and Microbiology (BIMI) module drew her into biochemistry, and she went on to pursue her Master’s degree on African trypanosomiasis under the supervision of Professor Theresa Coetzer.

An internship with Hewer in the area of drug discovery ignited her passion for the field, and Delport found she flourished in the small, stimulating environment of his laboratory.

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Looking ahead to Lindau, Delport is most excited about attending a lecture by Nobel Laureate Professor Aaron Ciechanover, who characterised the method used by cells to degrade and recycle proteins using the ubiquitin regulatory protein. She is also looking forward to the science walk, the Laureate lunch, the boat ride on the final day, and post-event opportunities.

Delport thanked Hewer, Professor Carola Niesler and Professor Ademola Olaniran for their support and for creating an environment conducive to success in the SLS. She also acknowledged the ASSAf in partnership with the Department of Science and Innovation as well as the Lindau Nobel Laureate Committee for nominating her and funding the trip, respectively.

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