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Patience Mthunzi: Could we cure HIV with lasers?


Patience Mthunzi holds a PhD (2010) in Physics (Biophotonics – Optical Tweezers Area) from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, UK. She is the first known person in South Africa to qualify for a PhD in this field of study. She started employment with the National Laser Centre (NLC) in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)in the Biophotonics group in October 2004. During November 2005 to April 2006 she set up a fully functional cell culture facility at the NLC before commencing her PhD (May 2006) in the UK. She is currently a senior scientist researcher at the NLC in the Biophotonics group, leading single cell and/or molecule projects. Her work is pretty varied. The practical science part involves project management and experiments. In the following areas of expertise: optical cell sorting in both fluid-flow and fluid-flow-free micro-sample chambers via use of novel optical landscapes. She also has extensive knowledge in photo-transfection studies using femtosecond laser pulses for gene delivery in mammalian cells and pluripotent stem cells. In addition, she has solid experience in low level laser tissue interaction studies, molecular biology procedures, virology (including HIV-1 work), biochemistry and embryonic stem cell biology. She also gets involved on the human capital development side, in that, she trains and supervises students in the laboratory; and mentors scholars and undergraduates. Beyond that she does quite a bit of writing. As a researcher, she has published popular science and peerreviewed journal articles (some invited). She also serves as a reviewer for the journal of Biomedical Optics, she is an external moderator for the Biomedical Technology IV module at the Tshwane University of Technology and is a member of CSIR’s HIV/AIDS committee. She attends and contributes to both local and international conferences. In addition she often gets invited to give guest lectures at conferences, higher education institutions and science festivals on optical cell sorting, photo-transfection, low level laser therapy and HIV-1 glycoproteins for vaccine development. During September 2011, she has been selected among hundreds of applicants, to attend and participate in the IAP/World Economic Forum’s “Summer Davos” conference in Dalian, China. Only four outstanding Young Scientists got selected to represent South Africa for this global meeting. Quite a bit of her time goes into writing research proposals for grant applications and securing research funding. Her current activities include establishing a biophotonics laboratory at the NLC-CSIR, raising public awareness on science and technology as well as voluntary youth counselling in her community.


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