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Recognition for work done at Varsity

The Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI)  at Stellenbosch University recently received international acclaim when its work on identifying and tracking Covid-19 variants was listed as one of the 10 technological breakthroughs of 2022 by MIT Technology Review.

The annual list highlights the top advances in medicine, energy and digital technologies – that will have the biggest impact on the world in the years to come.

Although CERI will only officially be launched later this year, it has been at the forefront of pathogen genomics surveillance to enhance biomedical discovery and effectively respond to epidemics. Headed by world-renowned bioinformatician Prof. Tulio de Oliveira, has helped South African scientists to quickly spot and warn the rest of world about the Beta and Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2.

De Oliveira, a professor of bioinformatics at SU’s School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, said, “We felt very honoured to be listed as the main group leading genomics surveillance of Covid in the world, which was selected as one of the ten breakthrough technologies in 2022 by MIT as I like to believe that MIT knows a little bit about cutting-edge technologies.”

“As part of this process, we also received a visit of a photographic crew from MIT. They were very impressed with our new state-of-the-art data and genomics facilities in South Africa and featured the new Biomedical Research Institute (BMRI) of Stellenbosch University in its feature piece on genomics surveillance.”

Echoing De Oliveira’s sentiments, Prof. Kanshu Rajaratnam, Director of the SU School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, commented, “SU has been intentional about providing multidisciplinary solutions to large problems. This honour is a great example of outcomes due to this multidisciplinary world that Prof. De Oliveira operates in. CERI would operate in a multidisciplinary space to help Africa in its future epidemic response.”

Envisioned to be the largest genomics facility in Africa, CERI also provides capacity building to other African countries as part of its support programme to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). CERI has already received fellows from 21 African countries to be trained in genomics, bioinformatics, big data and artificial intelligence analysis.  

Prof. Tulio de Oliveira, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, biotech investor of NantAfrica (a division of NantWorks) and President Cyril Ramaphosa (Photo: GCIS)​

In January, President Cyril Ramaphosa and the biotech investor of NantAfrica (a division of NantWorks), Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong also paid CERI and the BMRI at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences a visit to view its cutting-edge facilities. Regarding these high-level visits, De Oliveira says, “It is fantastic to see that the R1,5 billion investment of Stellenbosch University on its campus is attracting international attention. We are very proud to be part of this and will work hard to help South Africa and Africa to continue to be listed as a top technological setting in the world.”

Read the MIT Technology Review article, “Top Breakthrough Technologies of 2022: How tracking coronavirus variants will prepare us for the next global public health threat”, here.

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