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20 March 2023
UWC Alumna Scoops Top International Award
The conferral of the Healthcare 2022 Best PhD Thesis Award to University of the Western Cape (UWC) alumna Dr Shireen Mentor is vital for several reasons.

She is the first known South African scholar to receive the award from the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, which appeared in their Healthcare Journal. The award is another testament to UWC's stature as a top-class research institution. Furthermore, her work presents critical novel ways of treating neurological/brain disorders.

“It (the award) means that the quality of work at UWC, the laboratory infrastructure, as well as the academic support provided, produce excellent, quality researchers and research that can compete on global platforms,” commented Dr Mentor, who is a lecturer and a researcher at the neighbouring University of Cape Town.

Dr Mentor believes the award she received recently is an acknowledgement of "a job well done and justification for the agony, the self-doubt, and the hard work that went into my PhD studies. This award is a fitting metric to gauge the potential impact of the work produced during my PhD studies. It speaks to my capacity as a developing, independent researcher". 


“I see this win as a key to opening yet another door on this academic-research journey. The PhD is more than a degree; it grants me access to academic positions, research grant funding and lays the foundation for collaborative research endeavours.”

Top research, the top award

For the accolade, Dr Mentor conducted a study titled Investigating Novel Aspects of the Blood–Brain Barrier Using High-Resolution Electron Microscopy, which was a compilation of four papers published in highly rated peer-reviewed international journals.

The work focuses on ultrastructural dynamics of brain endothelial cell (BEC) communication, key constituents of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) that protects the brain from pathogens and restricts access of circulatory factors.

Dr Mentor believes her work is critical because a better understanding of the morphological and molecular underpinnings of the blood-brain barrier’s restrictive nature would shed light on novel, morphological aspects of its development, which builds on or impacts the existing body of knowledge about the brain’s protective barrier.

According to Dr Mentor, a few researchers focus on endothelial barrier studies. She aims to develop collaborative research projects across the country and globally to impact the existing body of BBB research on the human condition. She collaborates with the Neurobiology Research Group in the Department of Medical Biosciences at UWC on barrier-related studies.

Congratulating Dr Mentor for the accolade, her supervisor Professor David Fisher said there are many misconceptions about UWC, looking at the rankings that put the institution seventh. “But if you look at the type of graduates we develop, it's top class. The award says we can compete with the best scholars around the globe and can produce the best PhDs. This has now been confirmed by an objective, international journal that has nothing to do with South Africa”.