Cutting-edge Biomedical Research Institute a ‘game changer’ for healthcare in Africa

Stellenbosch University’s new Biomedical Research Institute is the most advanced research facility of its kind in Africa.

Stellenbosch University’s new Biomedical Research Institute is the most advanced research facility of its kind in Africa.

Published Apr 20, 2023


The new state-of-the-art Biomedical Research Institute (BMRI) places Stellenbosch University (SU) at the forefront of biomedical sciences on the African continent.

The BMRI is a world-class biomedical research complex on par with the best in the world and is unparalleled, not only on the African continent but the entire southern hemisphere in terms of its cutting-edge facilities and extensive research capacity.

The BMRI, situated on SU’s Tygerberg Campus in Cape Town, is being inaugurated over the next week.

“The realisation of the BMRI resonates with SU’s vision of being Africa’s leading research-intensive university with the objective of being globally recognised for our excellence in innovation to advance knowledge in service of society,” says Prof Wim de Villiers, SU rector and vice-chancellor.

The facility houses more than 500 biomedical researchers and students, including some of the world’s foremost scientists in the fields of bioinformatics, tuberculosis, neuroscience and urology. The cutting-edge research emanating from the facility has an undeniable African focus that seeks to understand the genetic and biomolecular basis of diseases afflicting South Africa and Africa.

“Scientists at the BMRI conduct research that translates into discoveries which improve the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of illnesses affecting South Africans and the rest of Africa,” says Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, vice dean: research and internationalisation of SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS).

Construction of this R1.2-billion facility (approximately $66 million) commenced in 2018 and was completed in 2023 – despite major challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The planning and design of this multifaceted complex followed a future-focussed approach, resulting in a high-performance research hub that is modular, functional and sustainable.

Medical technologist Candice Snyders prepares samples for analysis on the LUMINEX platform.

The BMRI boasts numerous state-of-the-art laboratories, including the largest (600m2) biosafety level three (BSL-3) laboratory and fully-automated biorepository in Africa, lecture and conference theatres equipped with the latest audio-visual technology, and large modern dissection halls custom-engineered to minimise formaldehyde exposure. The BMRI was also awarded a four-star rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa.

“The research conducted in the BMRI builds on SU’s commitment to impactful research, which takes into account the natural environment, health, human security, as well as systems and technologies for the future. At the heart of our scientific endeavours is the challenge to be locally relevant and globally competitive,” says Prof Sibusiso Moyo, SU deputy vice-chancellor: research, innovation and postgraduate studies.

The immense value of the BMRI was recognised even before its completion in 2023 and high-profile visitors, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, visited the facility in 2022. The facility’s potential was further endorsed when SU’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI), located in the BMRI, was selected by WHO as a partner-member of the first Covid mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub.

“The investment into the BMRI will allow significant human capacity development through training some of the best students from the continent, and exposing them to extensive national and international research networks – which will result in the next generation of successful scientists,” says Prof Elmi Muller, FMHS dean.

“The BMRI will be a game-changer for healthcare in Africa and is true evidence of using breakthrough science to improve lives.”

Click here for more information on the research being conducted at the BMRI.

Click here for more information about the BMRI launch activities taking place this week.

Technical officer Ané Kruger prepares samples to be stored in the Hamilton BiOS – the largest fully-automated bio repository on the African continent.


• The BMRI is the largest and most sophisticated research complex of its kind on the African continent and in the southern hemisphere.

• Apart from the facilities mentioned above, the BMRI also hosts:

  • A Bioinformatics hub
  • Electron microscopy laboratories
  • Proteomics and flow cytometry services (FACS) laboratories
  • A medical morphological learning centre
  • The sun-skill laboratory
  • Clinical research facilities

At 600m2, the BMRI hosts the largest biosafety level three (BSL-3) laboratory facilities on the African continent. BSL-3 laboratories are used to study infectious agents or toxins that may be transmitted through the air and cause potentially lethal infections. BSL-3 laboratories are designed to be easily decontaminated.

A system of negative air pressure keeps hazardous fumes or airborne toxins from flowing out of laboratories and into adjacent areas. A powerful ventilation and filtration plant continuously draw air out of laboratories and to the top of the building, where it is filtered and released.

The BMRI boasts advanced energy recovery technology fitted to the air system that reduces the building’s carbon footprint compared to other similar buildings.