Male Reproduction – A Woman's Perspective
Movember is about more than just manly moustaches. It's also about men's matters, and especially health matters.
During this month of Movember, University of the Western Cape (UWC) is proud to celebrate one of its top andrology students – Women in Science Award winner Lutho Menyane, who is performing top research on male fertility.
This researcher – and Women in Science Award winner – Lutho – sees Movember as a time to reflect on important issues of men's health and reproduction...her particular field of expertise.
An MSc student in the field of Andrology – the branch of physiology and medicine which deals with diseases and conditions specific to men – Lutho is from a small town of Engcobo in the Eastern Cape and later settled in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, where she lived with a loving grandfather.
She's aware that this is quite an unusual field of study for a woman, but it is a field that is in dire need of research – and has attracted numerous famous female researchers such as Christina Wang, Gail Prins or Sally Perreault.
“It is my concern for male well-being that attracted me to a career researching male fertility,” Lutho explains. “Most studies concerning fertility are focused on women. As a result, the burden of not being able to conceive as a couple is also mostly carried by women in our culture. That stirred my interest in developing a better understanding of men's contribution to reproduction.”
“Moreover, Prof Henkel, my supervisor and lecturer in undergrad, inspired me to take a stronger interest in Andrology. And besides, I have a good relationship with my grandfather and I love men,” she jokes.
Her enthusiasm for this field is probably also why this MSc student was one of two female scientists at UWC (along with fellow MSc student Usisipho Feleni) to have received a South African Women in Science Award (WISA). The awards, hosted annually by the Department of Science and Technology, acknowledge the country’s top women in science - people who provide an example for young researchers to aspire to.
Lutho's Master’s research focuses on understanding how the mechanisms of metabolic syndrome (the name for a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke) can cause dysfunction in the male reproductive system.
Prof Ralf Henkel, who was inaugurated recently as Honorary Professor at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, Peru, has been Lutho's supervisor since her Honours year.
“Menyane has to her advantage that she has a very good Honours thesis which explores a male domain focusing on male health,” says Henkel.“She researches the potential protective role traditionally used plants may have on this condition, with some positive results.”
Sharing Science For A Better Future
On the social responsibility front, Menyane has been a mentor for Partners in Sexual Health, a non-governmental organisation that works to bridge the gap between sexual and reproductive health research and intervention programmes to improve effective, evidence-based practices. She is also part of the Emerging Leaders Programme at UWC.
The former learner from Langa's Isilimela Comprehensive High believes it's essential to engage young girls to inspire them to reach for careers, although it still doesn't feel like the norm for females.
“Events such as WISA provide a platform for networking between women of all races and age groups,” she remarks. “I appreciate this award because it recognizes those who are doing the work that needs to be done. It is a source of aspiration to those who still think science is something far off, something hard to relate to.”
Menyane is eager to join the ranks of South African scientists who carry out ground-breaking medical science research.
“The work we do is not necessarily about getting the next degree,” she says. “We get to be part of teams that seek solutions to societal problems, and also engaging in indigenous knowledge to evaluate scientific outcomes. It concerns real lives.”
Picture caption: Women in Science Award winner Lutho Menyane, who's performing top research on male fertility.