UKZN Virtual Graduation

A Fascination with Brain Related Disorders earns UKZN Staffer a Doctoral Degree

Neuroscientist and UKZN Staffer, Dr Zama Msibi graduates with a PhD in Neuroscience (Physiology).

Dr Zama Msibi, a Physiology lecturer in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences (SLMMS), recently graduated with a doctoral degree in Neuroscience (Physiology), for her study entitled, ‘Combination of gold nanoparticle-mediated gene therapy and oleanolic acid in treatment of 6 hydroxydopamine-induced Parkinsonism.’ Her novel study aimed to provide a better understanding of the management and treatment of the brain- disorder, Parkinson’s disease (PD), through nanotechnology gene therapy.

PD is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that has increased over the past decade. PD cases gradually increase as population life expectancy increases, contributing to the already high cost of PD treatment. The lack of effective disease- modifying treatments adds to the impending PD pandemic. One of the key aspects of Parkinson’s is that it affects the predominately dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra.

Through the use of nanotechnology gene therapy, Msibi’s study focused on a better understanding of Oleanolic acid (OA). OA is a biologically active pentacyclic triterpenoid compound that has been previously shown to provide neuroprotection in PD preclinical studies; however, the mechanism by which this effect is exhibited is unknown.

This study combined gold nanoparticle (AuNP) mediated gene therapy with OA treatment for a possible enhancement of symptom relief, dopamine production and transgene expression in 6- hydroxydopamine-exposed Sprague Dawley rats and PC12 cell line. The results of the study indicated that AuNPs are a viable gene delivery tool for PD treatment, and OA enhances the therapeutic benefits of gene therapy.

Msibi’s study was supervised by the Dean and Head of School: SLMMS, Professor Musa Mabandla, who is an expert in neuroscience. Msibi commented on her journey, ‘It has been a long journey since I first had that meeting with Professor Mabandla as a prospective supervisor. I never would have guessed any of the knowledge and skills I acquired along the way and I am grateful for his patience in teaching me some of the basics of the brain. My supervisor allowed me to choose a research topic that has not been explored in our lab, making use of nanotechnology in Parkinson’s disease targeted gene delivery. With my background in genetics and his current research on medicinal plants, I went on a multi-disciplinary trajectory of research I never would have even imagined was possible.’

Msibi is passionate about mentoring young people in the sciences. During her free time, she engaged in philanthropic activities for disadvantaged schools in Umkhumbane, where she served as one of their Teaching assistants. ‘My passion for philanthropic work was re-kindled by this involvement, leading me to co-found a NPO called “Future Legends” with some of my colleagues. The main objectives of this NPO was to empower learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. We focused on High schools in Umlazi Township. We recruited mostly post-graduate students and a few medical students at UKZN to assist with extra classes during weekends. We entered some of the learners in the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists competition,’ said Msibi.

– MaryAnn Francis