(Published - 14 June 2019)
For the millions of children living with HIV, affordable and child-friendly treatment is essential - which is why award-winning University of the Western Cape pharmacy researcher Dr Marique Aucamp is working on ways to ensure the drugs are palatable, low-cost, and effective.
“My research focuses on the improvement of physical and chemical characteristics of active pharmaceutical ingredients, which could ultimately lead to improved patient treatment,” she explains. “This is an important issue not just locally, but globally, and could make a difference to many lives.”
Her work has earned her a prestigious Future Leaders – African Independent Research (FLAIR) Fellowship (the University’s first), only given to those talented African early career researchers who have the potential to become leaders in their field, possessing the opportunity to undertake cutting-edge scientific research that will address global challenges facing developing countries.
These fellowships - a partnership between the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and the Royal Society - supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), provide world-class support, training, mentoring and networking opportunities.
For Dr Aucamp, the award means more than just international recognition and funding (though that helps) - it’s a dream come true.
“FLAIR grants me the opportunity to work on a research project that could potentially have a global impact on the health of children,” she notes. “But most importantly, it allows research to be done for Africa, in Africa - showing that this is a continent with world-class talent recognised by outside authorities.”
The 2019 FLAIR funded scientists were selected from a pool of more than 700 applicants, and represent a diversity of research fields, from providing renewable energy solutions to tackling food security.
Dr Aucamp has just returned from an international FLAIR workshop hosted in London, the Meeting of Minds 2019 - an opportunity to meet other young researchers and fellows of the Royal Society. “The meeting’s Mentorship Masterclass allowed us to experience the impact and value of effective mentorship in research - and that is something that I would love to cultivate further in my research group,” she says.
Dr Aucamp hopes her example will inspire other young academics to achieve.
“It might sound like a cliché, but I am of the opinion that if you’re passionate about your career, not a single day will feel like hard work,” she says. “Personally, I think one must find that one thing that gives you purpose – combine that with dedication and hard work and you can take on the world!”
A Place Of Action, A Place Of Growth
Marique Aucamp was born in the Northern Cape town of Kimberley, but the family soon relocated to Sasolburg, a small Free State town on the banks of the Vaal River, where she completed her secondary education before studying Pharmacy at North-West University, Potchefstroom.
“Ultimately, it is the science behind creating a dosage form that makes Pharmacy interesting for me,” she says. “But it is also the impact that the profession has on the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one working in the laboratory or manufacturing plant or whether you are the go-to-pharmacist in your community – in the end, we all make a difference.”
She lived in Potchefstroom for ten years, where she met her husband who also happens to be her hiking partner, garden helper and go-to motivator - jobs he kept up when she was offered the senior lecturer position at UWC, and they relocated to Cape Town.
“I joined UWC because I wanted to grow as a researcher and a teacher - and most importantly to enrich my personal life,” she says. “After two years at UWC, I’m still making memories every day - it’s truly, as the mission statement emphasises, ‘a place of quality, a place to grow’.”
There’s still a lot of growth to go, of course.
“My dream is to build a globally-recognised research group in pharmaceutical sciences, based right here at UWC,” she says. “Hopefully after 10 years I will be able to look back and see that I’ve established myself in the pharmaceutical sciences research community – locally as well as internationally – and I’m finding new ways to make a real difference in the world.”