JO-ANN PASSMORE

Professor in the Division of Medical Virology

jo-ann.passmore@uct.ac.za

 

I am a Professor in the Division of Medical Virology, Department of Pathology at UCT and Principle Medical Scientist with the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) (Joint Staff). I am a full member of the Institute for Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine (IDM; https://idm.uct.ac.za/), a founding member of the SAMRC-UCT Gynaecological Cancer Research Centre (http://www.samrc-gcrc.uct.ac.za), research associate at CAPRISA (www.caprisa.org), member of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Vaginal Microbiome Research Consortium (VMRC; www.vmrc4health.org), and BMGF Calestous Juma Scientific Leadership Fellow. 

BRIAN KULLIN

Scientific Officer

brian.kullin@uct.ac.za

 

I am a Scientific Officer in the MIG team, with extensive experience in microbiology, with a focus on the role that anaerobic bacteria play in health and disease. As part of the MIG management team, I lead several of the research projects in the group and supervise post-graduate students on projects related to the microbiome, anaerobic bacteria and reproductive health.  I established the anaerobic culture facility in the IDM, including its management and day-to-day running.

 

I am primarily responsible for leading the microbiological component of the VMRC4Africa study, which seeks to understand longitudinal vaginal microbial community dynamics in African women with and without bacterial vaginosis.  Under this umbrella, we have several sub-studies including the isolation and characterisation of Lactobacillus spp. for use in probiotic products (with Drs Marijke Fagan-Endres and Anna Happel), investigations on the diversity of bacteriophages within vaginal bacteria (with Drs Anna Happel and Rémy Froissart), and the molecular epidemiology of Chlamydia trachomatis in South African women (with Dr Rubina Bunjun and Pride Kanyoka).

TANKO FATIME RAMLA

Junior Research Fellow

tanko.fatimeramla@uct.ac.za

 

I am a Junior Research Fellow in the MIG group, which I joined in 2017 as a postdoctoral research fellow, and an IDM Fellow (https://idm.uct.ac.za/). I am a Research Officer at the Center for Study of Emerging and Re-emerging Diseases (CREMER), Institute of Medical Research and Medicinal Plant studies (IMPM), Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation (MINRESI) in Yaoundé, Cameroon, being seconded to UCT. 

 

I have been involved in several projects in the MIG group, including (i) assessing the role of Depo-Provera and other contraceptives on genital inflammation and HIV risk, as part of the Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV outcomes (ECHO) study (http://echo-consortium.com/); (ii) understanding the role of vitamin D deficiency and genital mucosal susceptibility to STIs like HPV and HIV; and, most recently, (iii) development of the Genital Inflammation Test (GIFT), which is a point-of-care test to detect asymptomatic STIs/BV, focusing on the role of the vaginal microbiome in driving inflammation. All of these projects seek to contribute towards improving vaginal health outcomes and reducing the burden of HIV in Africa.

FEZILE KHUMALO

Junior Research Fellow

Fezile.khumalo@uct.ac.za

 

I am a Junior Research Fellow in the MIG group, and a Carnegie Fellow. My current projects focus on GIFT focusing on both the development of the immunoassays as well as the pre-commercialisation efforts. Additionally, I supervise post graduate students engaged in various GIFT-related projects and understanding the vaginal mucosa. In collaboration with the Postgraduate Academic Training Program (PGATP), I coordinate and plan program activities. Moreover, I serve as a co-chair for the IDM TEC committee. 

 

My background is in medical biochemistry, earned through my PhD from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in collaboration with CSIR. My core research focus is deeply rooted in the development of immunoassays for infectious diseases, with a special focus on tuberculosis (TB) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). My mission is to translate biomarkers discovered and validated in Africa and other low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) into diagnostic technologies that can be commercialized for broader accessibility.

YACOEB GANIEF

Technical Officer

yacoeb.ganief@uct.ac.za

 

I am a Technical Officer in the MIG group and repository manager. The group uses RedCap for data capture, which I manage, and Freezerworks for repository management.

Nangamso Cawe

Technical officer

nangamso.cawe@uct.ac.za

 

I am a Technical officer in the MIG Group, responsible for managing day-to- day activities in the tissue culture and Immunology laboratory. I completed my bachelor’s degree in biotechnology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.  I have worked for more than 5 years in Clinical Trials and have experience of working in TB and HIV studies.

KIRSTEN WELP

Scientific officer

kirsten.welp@uct.ac.za

 

I am a scientific officer in the MIG group working on different projects focussing on the vaginal microbiota and microbial interactions. I also have a minor role in looking after and organising the microbiology lab.

 

I completed my undergraduate degree at UCT 2020, majoring in biochemistry and genetics. I joined the MIG group in 2021, when I started my Honours project focussing on Prevotella bivia, a common bacterial vaginosis associated bacteria. I stayed on in the group for my MSc working on a similar topic with a larger group of bacteria and a more in depth bioinformatic component. After submitting my MSc in February 2024, I got the opportunity to stay on in the group where I am now working on VMRC-related projects and experiments.

Monalisa Tatenda Manhanzva

Post-Doctoral Fellow

monalisa.manhanzva@uct.ac.za

 

I am a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the MIG group, currently overseeing project activities for the EDCTP-funded GIFT project aimed at developing the GIFT, a point-of-care device for detecting genital inflammation and bacterial vaginosis in women. Prior to joining the MIG lab, I was involved in a project to assess the impact of pre-existing genital tract inflammation on HIV acquisition risk among young South African women in the Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV outcomes (ECHO) study, in a study led by my PhD supervisor and Post-Doc mentor Dr Lindi Masson, who is now based at the Burnet Institute in Australia.

SHANTELLE CLAASSEN-WEITZ

Post-Doctoral Fellow

tellafiela@gmail.com

 

During my PhD I used modern molecular tools to investigate associations between complex microbial communities and respiratory disease in infants.  This sparked my interest in understanding how imbalances in microbial communities (viral and bacterial) cause illness in the human host.

I joined the MIG team as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in 2023 where, under leadership of Prof. Jo-Ann Passmore and Dr. Brian Kullin, I focus on the roles that anaerobic bacteria play in female genital tract health and disease. I am also involved in projects investigating the effect of HIV, pregnancy, and antiretroviral drugs on vaginal virome diversity and composition (with Prof. Heather Jaspan and Dr. Anna Happel).

I am interested in projects aiming to improve vaginal health outcomes and reducing the burden of STIs (HPV and HIV), preterm birth and bacterial vaginosis.

PRIDE KANYOKA

Post-Doctoral Fellow

KNYPRI001@myuct.ac.za

 

I am originally from Zimbabwe, I studied at Bulawayo Polytechnic and Harare Polytechnic for my undergraduate studies. I worked on Chlamydia pecorum epidemiology in free ranging koalas at Queensland University of Technology inAustralia for my Msc thesis. I joined MIG group in 2019.

 

My PhD project involves investigating Chlamydia trachomatis genetic diversity in high-risk adolescent women population in South Africa using both high-resolution multi-locus sequence typing and whole genome sequencing. Exploring the relationship between genital inflammation and persistence focusing specifically on sequence variation in Chlamydia trachomatis virulence and antigen factors.

MICAELA LURIE

PhD student

LRXMIC020@myuct.ac.za

 

I am a PhD student in the MIG group, focusing on assessing the performance of IL-1 and IP-10 for the detection of asymptomatic STI or BV in women at high risk for HIV infection, as part of the GIFT team. My PhD is being supervised by Drs Jo-Ann Passmore, Lindi Masson (Burnett Institute, AU), and Ramla Tanko.

 

I joined the MIG lab in 2018, for a BSc Honours degree in Immunology and Infectious diseases, for which I obtained a distinction; and a MSc degree which focused  on characterizing T cell responses in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) stimulated with heat killed or lysed Chlamydia trachomatis in 2022. 

Phumla Radebe

PhD student

RDBPHU005@myuct.ac.za

 

I am a PhD student working on the GIFT project, where we are evaluating the predictive value of IL-1a and IL-1b  for accurately identifying women with asymptomatic STIs or BV. My PhD will focus on the regulatory requirement for SAHPRA approval of the GIFT device and conducting a device accuracy trial needed for registration, and is being supervised by Drs Jo-Ann Passmore and Fezile Khumalo.

 

I joined the group as a Research associate in January 2022, during which I also completed my MSc degree through the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) Pietermaritzburg, which focused on genital inflammation and cervical changes associated with vaginal insertion practices in adolescent girls and young women from Kwa-Zulu. I am originally from a small town called Estcourt in KwaZulu Natal, and completed both my BSc and BSc Honours degree (in Biochemistry) at UKZN Pietermaritzburg Campus.

Maria Mwakatima

PhD student

MWKMAR003@myuct.ac.za

 

I am a PhD student in the MIG group, focusing evaluating HPV prevalence in young women living in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Madagascar who are part of GIFT study. My PhD is being supervised by Dr Jo-Ann Passmore and Emeritus Professor Anna-Lise Williamson.

 

Originally I am from Tanzania, I have received my undergraduate degree in Biotechnology and Laboratory Sciences from Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, my MSc degree in Microbiology and Immunology from Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania. Currently I am working for the National Institute for Medical Research as a Research Scientist leading the Immunology Unit. I started as a Junior Scientist responsible for conducting immunogenicity experiments and I was also involved in coordinating and conducting tuberculosis studies.

TAKUNDA NGWENYA

PhD student

NGWTAK002@myuct.ac.za

 

I am a PhD student in the MIG research group. My work focuses on the development of antibodies targeting three cytokines (IL-1α, IL-1β and IP-10) relevant to the GIFT project, which focuses on screening for STIs or bacterial vaginosis related inflammation. My supervisors for this project are Drs Fezile Khumalo and Jo-Ann Passmore.

 

I joined the MIG lab in 2024 for my doctoral degree. Prior to that, I obtained a BSc honours degree in biosciences and biotechnology, from the Midlands State University, in Zimbabwe. I also graduated with a MSc in medicine with distinction, in the medical biotechnology and immunotherapy research unit, at UCT. My MSc project focused on the generation of recombinant immunodiagnostics and therapeutics for triple negative breast cancer.

HANNAH LIVINGSTONE

MSc student

LVNHAN002@myuct.ac.za

 

I am an MSc student in the group, who’s project aims to address the under representation of South African Gardnerella spp. isolates in BV research, which mainly focuses on isolates from Europe and the United States. This is being done by characterizing their susceptibility to antimicrobials, screening for virulence factors and antimicrobial resistance genes, quantifying their formation of biofilms and by studying co-occurrence patterns of Gardnerella spp. in women with and without BV. My MSc is being supervised by Dr Brian Kullin, Dr Anna Happel and Prof Jo-Ann Passmore.

 

I completed my BSc in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at Stellenbosch University in 2020, and my BSc Honours in 2021, specialising in Infectious Disease and Immunology, which I passed with distinction.

Castygo Koketso Ramotsila

MSc student

RMTKOK002@myuct.ac.za

 

I am a MSc student in the group, with a project that focuses on anti-inflammatory biologics, that target the IL-1 cytokine pathway, with the aim of co-formulating novel topical drug products to treat inflammation. My MSc is being supervised by Dr Jo-Ann Passmore.

I am a South African born and was raised in Pretoria. I completed my BSc in Molecular Biology at the North West University, majoring in Microbiology and Chemistry, and a BSc Honours degree in Infectious diseases and Immunology at UCT.

FELICITY HARTLEY

M.Phil. student

MDDFEL001@myuct.ac.za

 

I am an M.Phil. student in the MIG group, with a trans-disciplinary project that focuses on what visual arts-based methods contribute to our understanding of adolescent women’s experiences of accessing sexual reproductive health (SRH) and what their perceived and experienced barriers to SRH are. My MPhil is being supervised by Drs Jo-Ann Passmore, Virginia MacKenny (Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT), and Lucia Knight (School of Public Health, UCT).

 

My hope is that a qualitative perspective can bring a deeper understanding of adolescent SRH behaviour and impact the way biomedical research interacts with participants, making it beneficial and enriching for both the research team and the participants.

Caleb Swanepoel

MSc student

SWNCAL002@myuct.ac.za

 

I am an MSc student in the group, who’s project focuses on the interaction between bacteriophages of different morphologies and the human immune system, with a specific focus on lytic phages of UPEC E. coli strains. This research aims to improve the safety and efficacy of future phage therapies by deepening our understanding of the pro and anti-inflammatory effects of bacteriophages. My MSc is being supervised by Drs Jo-Ann Passmore, Brian Kullin and Remy Froissart (U. Montpellier, France).

 

Originally from Johannesburg, I hold a BHSc (Hons) in Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease from the University of the Witwatersrand, where I studied the anti-biofilm properties of bimetallic nanoparticles in C. violaceum. My main areas of interest are virology, tropical diseases, and phage therapy.

Charleen Wormsberg

MSc student

WRMCHA001@myuct.ac.za

 

I am an MSc student in the group, who’s research project focuses on isolating and characterising Lactobacillus iners from young women from South Africa and Kenya that have optimal and non-optimal vaginal microbiota, as part of the vmrc4africa study team. My MSc is being supervised by Drs Brian Kullin and Jo-Ann Passmore.

 

I am half-Belgian and half-German raised in Cape Town, South Africa. I have always had a passion for the human body. I was deeply inspired by the Body Worlds exhibition when I was 12 years old, making me want to specialise in the medical biology field. I completed my BSc Biology degree at UCT in 2020, majoring in biochemistry and human anatomy and physiology, and a BSc honours degree in biochemistry at Stellenbosch University in 2021.

CONITA LOMBARD

Msc Student

LMBCON002@myuct.ac.za

 

I am an MSc student in the group, with a project that focuses on establishing methods to assess biochemical and physical properties of cervicovaginal mucus and the influence of bacterial vaginosis on cervicovaginal mucus properties. My project is supervised by Drs. Jo-Ann Passmore, Fezile Khumalo and Anna-Ursula Happel.

 

I joined the Mucosal Infections Group in 2022 and completed my Honours degree in Infectious Diseases and Immunology. I completed my research project under the supervision of Drs. Jo-Ann Passmore and Fezile Khumalo (Burnet Institute AU).