Top spot for local scientist among world's best

Shireen Mentor, a 29-year-old resident of Montevideo, near Manenberg, has been named one of the world’s top young scientists.

Mentor, a PhD student from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) has just returned from a prestigious science conference in Germany, and is already preparing for her next visit to the USA.

Mentor’s five-day trip to Germany late last month came after being selected to attend the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, which is one of the most prestigious science conferences in the world.

She was one of six South African female scientists nominated by the Academy of Science of South Africa to attend the event, which hosted 600 of the world’s most intelligent individuals, including Nobel Prize-winning scientists, who shared their ideas on physiology and medicine.

“Mentor has just heard she’s been awarded a Fullbright Scholarship from the University of Missouri in the USA, and is currently preparing her visa and other necessary documents for her departure in September. She will be away for nine months,” explains Harriet Box, UWC’s communications officer.

But the young scientist’s journey with UWC and in the field started when she joined the university’s work-study programme catering to students predominantly from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

Stepping stone

She worked as a student assistant and anatomy practical demonstrator, and lectured postgraduate students in basic tissue culture techniques at the university’s Medical Biosciences Department.

Mentor was also an assistant lecturer, teaching aspects of neurobiology, reproduction and metabolism to community health students, and is already a published scientist in prominent scientific journals, and the first recipient of the coveted national Wyndham Prize from the Physiology Society of Southern Africa in 2014.

As part of Mentor’s doctoral studies, she plans 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,” Mentor explains in a statement.

“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.

“UWC has been my stepping stone in many respects. I’m looking forward to learning more about how my research may one day be able to make a meaningful contribution to treating addiction.”

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