Stellenbosch University’s new biomedical research centre has a special focus on African health

17th April 2023

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Stellenbosch University’s (SU’s) new R1.2-billion Biomedical Research Institute (BMRI) has a particular focus on diseases found in South Africa and more widely across Africa. For example, it has a specialised section devoted to the analysis of the genomes of South African and other African patients with rare diseases, using the latest technique, known as Next Generation Sequencing. Indeed, it has the biggest genomic facility in Africa.

The institute’s biomarker analysis section can simultaneously analyse 500 biomarkers from 350 patients. Biomarkers are used in the analysis of disease and the response of the body to the treatment for the disease. While the facility has a primary focus on TB, its capabilities are available for use in countering other illnesses, notably cancer.

The BMRI’s biorepository, for the preservation of biomedical samples at very low temperatures, is the first fully automated such facility in the southern hemisphere.

The building is so designed that all its research laboratories (labs) are optimally located to ensure proper temperature control. The many labs in the facility are divided into general labs and specialised labs. They all have negative air pressure systems, meaning that the air pressure in the labs is lower than the normal sea level Cape Town air pressure outside them. This ensures that, in the event of a biosafety breach, any pathogens would remain confined to the lab concerned.

Located on SU’s Tygerberg campus, directly adjacent to Tygerberg Hospital, in Cape Town, the BMRI also has a major educational and training role. It has a large dissection facility, for both the training of medical students and for research purposes. It has a museum displaying different parts of real human bodies (donated for scientific research), again for medical student training purposes. And it has a major surgical simulation facility, in which both students and surgeons can practice complex surgical procedures on human cadavers (again, explicitly donated for scientific purposes).

“The investment in 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] results in a next generation of successful scientists,” highlighted SU Medicine and Health Sciences Faculty Dean Professor Elmi Muller. “The BMRI will be a game changer for healthcare in Africa and is true evidence of using breakthrough science to improve lives.”

The BMRI building has a four-star rating from the Green Building Council.


Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online




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