Shireen Mentor, a University of the Western Cape PhD scholar, has been selected to attend one of the most prestigious science gatherings in the world - the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.
Mentor is one of only six South African female scientists nominated by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) to attend the meeting in Germany next week (24 to 28 July 2018). Here, 600 of the world’s brightest minds, including Nobel Prize-winning scientists, will be sharing their ideas on physiology and medicine.
Mentor, who returns on 7 July, says this is undeniably the most exciting recent highlight of her career. At age 29, she is already a published scientist in prominent scientific journals, and she was the first recipient of the coveted national Wyndham Prize from the Physiology Society of Southern Africa in 2014.
She realises that this meeting will help her develop an international network to encourage future collaboration, and also help her grow as an academic.
“I deeply appreciate this opportunity to exchange ideas and get to hear about cutting-edge research first-hand,” says Mentor.
Along with the opportunity she is able to visit the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Developmental Cell Biology - something she’s been dreaming of for a long time.
As part of her doctoral studies, she wants to redefine the theoretical interpretation of the functional composition of the brain’s protective barrier properties. “My original research was situated squarely within the context of substance abuse. My neighbourhood, like many others in the greater Cape Town, experiences high levels of substance abuse, in particular methamphetamine - and this inspired me to look at the science behind it.
“In my honours year I investigated the effects of methamphetamine on the blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability, since the mechanism may be linked to the integrity of the BBB, which regulates the movement of ions, pathogens, and an array of harmful substances across brain capillaries, protecting the cognitive integrity of the central nervous system.”
Her journey with UWC started when she joined the University’s work-study programme catering to students predominantly from previously-disadvantaged backgrounds. She worked as a student assistant and anatomy practical demonstrator, and lectured postgraduate students in basic tissue culture techniques at the Medical Biosciences Department. She was also an assistant lecturer, teaching aspects of neurobiology, reproduction and metabolism to community health students.
“UWC has been my stepping stone in many respects,” she says. “I’m looking forward to the meeting - and learning more about how my research may one day be able to make a meaningful contribution to treating addiction.”