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Candice Rassie: L’Oreal UNESCO Woman in Science

UWC’s Woman in Science Fellow Candice Rassie Tackles TB

The L’Oreal-UNESCO Regional Fellowships For Women in Science in Sub-Saharan Africa are awarded annually to honour young women scientists who are doing exceptional work – and to provide them with €15,000 to put towards their PhD research.

One such deserving young scientist is University of the Western Cape PhD student Candice Rassie, who is using chemistry to study and combat one of South Africa’s biggest scourges: tuberculosis. TB is the biggest killer of HIV-positive patients worldwide - and in South Africa, which has has one of the highest rates of TB infection in the world, it’s the leading cause of death of any kind.

Born in the Western Cape, Candice grew up in poverty on the Cape Flats, but turned a love of science and studying and a serious work ethic into earning an Honours and Masters degree in electrochemistry - both cum laude - from UWC.

Now Candice is working on her PhD - her research focuses on multi-channel cytochrome P450 enzyme phenotype-nanobiosensor systems in TB patients.

But let her explain her work - and her life - in her own words...

Can you tell us a bit about your research?

My research involves the development of an enzymatic TB biosensor, which will basically determine a TB patient’s metabolic profile towards certain TB drugs that are currently used to treat the disease. The hope is that this will one day help personalise every patient’s drug regimen to suit their metabolic needs, minimising adverse drug reactions. That might reduce patients’ inability or unwillingness to complete their six-month treatment - and thus prevent the evolution of drug-resistant TB strains.

Why work in this field?

TB is one of the most widespread diseases in our country - and the fact that it’s curable and yet has such a high level of prevalence is disconcerting to me. My project will help with the treatment and eradication of TB in the long run, and that will make a big difference. And chemistry and biology have both been passions of mine since high school, so it’s nice to have a project that lets me carry out chemical experiments while improving health outcomes.

What drove you to attain such scholarly success?

I was a natural scholar, but I wouldn’t have been where I am today if not for my parents, who always encouraged me to further my education. My mother, especially, played a big role in encouraging me to continue along the academic path.

What did receiving the L’Oreal-UNESCO fellowship mean to you?

It was a huge honour and an emotional moment for me. The award is so prestigious that I had to pinch myself several times at the ceremony to make sure it was real. I felt truly blessed. My hope is that it could help inspire my fellow women in science to overcome the statistics - women are often in the minority in academia, and awards like the L’Oreal-UNESCO fellowship encourages them to work hard and close that gap.

What’s next for you?

Well, completing a PhD is no easy task, so my first plan of action is to graduate next March. After that I would like to continue in academia, doing research and perhaps teaching or lecturing. I would love to influence young minds, encouraging the youth to pursue a tertiary education.

Candice’s fellow Fellowship winners stem from Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Soudan, with research projects ranging from the effective use of crime mining data, to investigating the decline of fish stocks, to non-conventional agriculture and patient-friendly drug delivery systems for TB and more. Find out more here.