Since 2013 I have been employed as a researcher in the Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) Novel Vaccine group at the Transboundary Animal Diseases Programme (TADP) of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) – Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (OVI). Following the completion of my BSc at the University of Pretoria I decided that my field of interest lay with virology. Towards this end I pursued my BSc (Hons) degree focusing on foot-and-mouth disease virus and the construction of a chimeric FMD virus (FMDV). In 2003 I started at the ARC as an MSc student focusing on determining the role of a second RGD motif in the 1D protein of a Namibian SAT1 FMDV for target cell attachment. Thereafter I was awarded a DST scholarship in association with the ARC to pursue my PhD degree. During the completion of my Hons and MSc studies I realized the importance of FMDV vaccines and the lack of knowledge regarding vital aspects that contribute to an effective FMD vaccine. Therefore my PhD studies focused on FMD with specific emphasis on the development of improved recombinant vaccines against the FMDV. The main areas of focus included the identification and characterisation of antigenic epitopes that can aid in identifying more suitable vaccine strains for SAT2 FMDVs. Presently, my focus is on the development of a FMDV-specific immune phage display library for the identification of additional FMDV specific antigenic sites and utilizing these single-chain variable fragments as possible diagnostic reagents.
In 2016 I became a senior researcher within the diagnostic department where my focus lies on the development of novel diagnostic reagents for the testing of Foot and Mouth Disease as well as the validation of current diagnostic methods in the South African setting.
As a senior researcher at the TADP ARC-OVI my role requires me to conduct independent research in order to ensure the successful completion of research projects. Additionally, it is required that I capture, interpret, formulate and publish my research findings, as well as make recommendations. Furthermore, I am expected to continuously network with other researchers internally and externally to the ARC and identify possible research opportunities. This entails compiling grant proposals and reports as well as liaising with our collaborators. To date, I have been co-investigator/researcher on four successful international grant applications. Thus, I have been involved in writing monthly, quarterly and final reports to our collaborators as well as reports to the project manager. As a scientist, it is vital that I present my research at both national and international conferences, which I have achieved since I have been in research at the ARC since 2002. To date I have five peer reviewed scientific publications, with a further two currently in preparation. I have also been asked to peer-review a paper for the journal Vaccine.
It is my responsibility to also identify gaps in training and technology needed within our programme and to be trained to acquire these skills, which contributes to successful technology transfer. For example, I have been trained in two new technologies and successfully transferred this to my programme. I also mentor two PhD students and interns as well as assist with technique training and orientation within the laboratory. Furthermore, I effectively manage project budgets by monitoring laboratory stocks and following SCM procedures.
Starting as an MSc student at the ARC-TADP and then moving on to doing my PhD and ultimately becoming employed as a senior researcher, has evolved me as a scientist. It has also allowed me to be exposed not only to the research side of FMD but also the diagnostics, vaccine production and business aspects relating to the TADP programme and the ARC as a whole.