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Team Members

The research lab comprises of the following members:

Mandeep Kaur (PhD), Personal Professor

Prof. Kaur obtained her PhD from India in 2003 and since then she has worked in various universities in South Africa and Saudi Arabia. She Joined Wits in 2015 and since then her lab has grown and is currently hosting one postdoctoral fellow, 8 PhDs, 4 MScs and every year 2-3 honours students are trained in the lab. Prof. Kaur has published more than 62 research articles in international peer-reviewed journals including Cell, Nature Genetics, and Nucleic Acids Research etc. She has filed several patents and has granted patents. She has presented talks in several conferences and is a reviewer for several acclaimed journals.

Prof. Kaur’s research focus is to understand the molecular biology of cancer by utilizing cell biology, bioinformatics, and molecular genetics-based methods. The research in the lab focuses on to identify biomarkers for cancer diagnosis, drug discovery and to study the complexity of mechanistic pathways underlying cancer. Lab’s particular emphasis is on understanding the role of cholesterol in tumour development and drug resistance in cancer. Several projects are currently being run in the lab to develop new therapeutic approaches to combat drug resistance in cancer.

For more information about Prof. Kaur’s publications, please click here.

Dr Liang Gu (PhD), Postdoctoral Fellow

Liang Gu was Professor Kaur’s first student back in 2016. Liang assisted in establishing standardised protocols in Kaur’s lab. She completed her doctorate in 2021 where she obtained positive feedback for her project investigating the role of CETP as a drug resistance biomarker in breast cancer. She is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow, where she manages day to day lab operations and inventory procurement. Liang is also acting as a co-supervisor for two MSc students and one honour’s student. Liang’s warm and friendly nature coupled with her excellent mentorship skills makes her the perfect person to approach when looking for advice or good company.

Lebohang Mashatola (MSc), PhD Candidate

Lebohang Mashatola is a bioinformatics researcher specialising in the field of transcriptomics. In 2020, he completed his MSc (with distinction) in bioinformatics. He continues to develop his expertise in his PhD research. His research interests involve computational method development, algebraic topology and geometry to understand biological systems.

He recently completed his research internship at IBM where he refined his computational acumen. Besides research, Lebohang served diligently as the Vice President of the Golden Key Gauteng Alumni Committee from 2021 to 2022, where he ignited his passion to improve education in Africa.

Shanen Perumal (MSc), PhD Candidate

Shanen is an ambitious scientist with a diverse set of skills and interests. He joined the lab in 2017, completing his MSc in computational biology. In 2019, he began his PhD in collaboration with Uppsala University in Sweden, where he received training in cancer epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition methodology, which he brought back to Wits University, South Africa to begin his research.

He completed his PhD in 2023, which explored the role of cholesterol in TGFβ induced epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in breast cancer and maintains a relationship with current lab members for collaboration and publication opportunities.

Ruvesh Pascal Pillay (MSc), PhD Candidate

Ruvesh Pillay is in his final year of his PhD degree. He is aiming to uncover the role of cholesterol depletion on the effectiveness of chemotherapies in colorectal cancer. During his studies, he has gained expert experience with both in vitro and in vivo models, yielding significant experimental results. Ruvesh's interests extend beyond his studies which includes event planning, baking and modelling.

Following obtaining his doctorate, Ruvesh hopes to combine his scientific knowledge and creative talents to continue the search for improved therapeutics against cancer, a disease that continues to plague our world.

Zubayr Kader (MSc), PhD Candidate

Zubayr Kader completed his undergraduate and BSc (Hons) degrees at Stellenbosch University, where he investigated and evaluated various image threshold methods available for autophagosomal identification in fluoresence images. His MSc research, aimed at investigating the genetic characteristics expressed in colorectal cancer cells, was completed in 2020.

He is currently building upon his MSc research through PhD, investigating colorectal cancer in local patients using RNA-Seq and bioinformatics. He currently holds the NRF Doctoral Scholarship. He has presented his work in two conferences, Molecular Biosceicnes Research Thrust conference (2021), and South African Society of Biochemistry and Biology (2021).

Tasvi Daya (MSc), PhD Candidate

Tasvi Daya is a valuable addition to the PhD team. Tasvi possesses extensive knowledge in protein biochemistry as she obtained her Masters in Biochemistry and took on the challenge to pursue a PhD in oncology. Her PhD project is focused on pancreatic cancer and the role that cholesterol plays in mediating drug resistance and cancer progression.

Tasvi values the importance of sharing her knowledge in being a scientist with other people and her communication and creativity skills have won her prizes in national science competitions (FameLab, 2021; SAYAS, 2022). As much as she loves being a researcher, Tasvi strongly aspires to be a TV presenter and dreams to build her own science media outlet in the near future.

Naaziyah Abdulla (MSc), PhD Candidate

Naaziyah has been a part of Professor Kaur’s lab since her honour’s year. She has been an invaluable researcher in standardising protocols within the lab. Naaziyah is a part of a team that serve as pioneers in establishing intestinal organoids in South Africa. Her latest endeavour includes coculturing cytotoxic T-cells with organoids in an attempt to delineate the role of cholesterol in the tumour microenvironment. Her goal is to utilise this novel work towards uncovering the complex interaction between the immune system and cancers.

Naaziyah spends her free time envisioning all her future Nature, Science and Cell publications. In the need of an article DOI, politely ask Naaz to access her brain’s filing system.

Ruthi Aronson (MSc), PhD Candidate

Ruthi Aronson is currently working towards her PhD which focuses on understanding the biological mechanisms of cholesterol mediated drug resistance in colorectal cancer using intestinal organoid cultures. Ruthi is excited to revolutionise the field of organoids in South Africa and hopes to contribute towards a personalised medical approach.

Ruthi’s passion and dedication is reflected in her accolades of awards and scholarships. She graduated top of her undergraduate class in 2018. The quality of her MSc work is reflected in the filing of a provisional patent. Ruthi’s bubbly nature brings light-heartedness and fun into all daily lab experiences.

Khadija Jamal (BSc (Hons)), MSc Candidate

Khadija Jamal was a master’s student for Professor Kaur. Her projects for both honours and masters, funded by the National Research Foundation, revolved around Applied Bioinformatics for data analysis. Khadija’s research interests include computational biology hence, her studies involved analysing patient data for the identification of potential biomarkers in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC). The aim of these projects was to improve the diagnosis and prognosis of PDAC through the use of an RNA-sequence pipeline tool.

Following the completion of her MSc, Khadija’s goal is to use artificial intelligence and machine learning models to provide an in-depth understanding of various diseases and/or disorders.

Andrea Breytenbach (BSc (Hons)), MSc

Andrea Breytenbach is currently in her second year of MSc, her research focusses on uncovering the molecular underpinnings of cholesterol-related epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in pancreatic cancer progression and is looking forward to continue exploring this challenging topic in her PhD. Andrea is a natural problem solver and has a never-give-up attitude that has served her well in her studies.

One of her greatest strengths is her ability to bring people together and create a positive social atmosphere. Andrea also ensures never to take life too seriously which is reflected in her moto “when life gives you lemons, grab tequila and salt”.

Thea-Leonie Du Plessis (BSc (Hons)), MSc

Thea is the first MSc student to join the organoid team in Professor Kaur’s lab. She aims to characterise newly generated intestinal organoids in South African patients, with the ultimate goal of contributing to personalised medication in South Africa. Thea’s goal for the future is to work on Organ-on-A-Chip models as she progresses to more patient-specific studies.

Some of her recent achievements include various certificates for her academic achievements as well as receiving an NRF Scholarship during her final year of MSc and attending the Pan African Cancer Research Institute (PACRI) conference in 2023.

Posentia Maholobela (BSc (Hons)), MSc

Posentia Maholobela joined Prof Kaur's lab in 2022 as an honors student, co-supervised by Dr Liang Gu. Posentia has had a keen interest in understanding the molecular progression of cancer since her undergraduate years. She is passionate about finding ways to improve and extend the quality of life of those who are affected by the disease.

She plans on branching into drug design and development, identifying potential biomarkers to use as chemotherapeutic targets. Posentia hopes to make a contribution to science that will bring us closer to solving the persisting issue of cancer aggressiveness and recurrence.

Lize-Marie van Wyk (BSc (Hons)), MSc

Lize-Marie joined Prof Kaur’s lab during her honours year, where she began her scientific journey exploring the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic cancer. Lize-Marie, now driven to become a specialist in the field, is currently persuing her MSc degree through exploring the mechanisms of drug resistance in pancreatic cancer. She is excited to gain experience in both cell culture and tissue models. Her aim is to leave Prof Kaur’s lab with a PhD behind her name.


Dr Sourav Taru Saha (PhD)

SSourav Saha obtained his PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology (2019), where he focused on investigating a cholesterol depleting compound for treatment of breast cancer. Along with Prof Kaur, Sourav filed a provisional patent for this study based on the in vitro and in vivo results. He also delved into the molecular mechanisms of this cholesterol-depletor via protein and gene expression studies along with drug-protein interactions. Sourav is currently working as a clinical fellow at the University of Toronto

Dr Bernice Monchusi (PhD)

Bernice Monchusi was previously employed as a postdoctoral fellow in Kaur’s lab. She is involved in several projects relating to cancer drug resistance. Her main project focuses on exploring the role of miRNAs in cholesterol-mediated drug resistance, in breast cancer. Currently, she is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Limpopo focusing of screening medicinal plants for bioactive compounds with anti-cancer, anti-metastatic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic properties. She is involved in procurement, supervision, co-supervision, and teaching of postgraduate students. Bernice is an enthusiastic, vibrant and joyful individual, it is always a pleasure working with her.

Dr Farhat Khan (PhD)

Farhat Khan completed her PhD in Molecular and cell biology in 2022, under the supervision of Prof. Mandeep Kaur. Her focused area was in the field of Applied Bioinformatics, where she aimed at creating the first-ever manually curated Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) genes database and utilized bioinformatics tools to develop key biomarkers which can serve as potential diagnostic measure to predict early risk of colorectal cancer in IBD patients.

Dr Gabriella Palma (PhD)

Gabriella worked diligently to obtain her doctorate at the beginning of 2023. During her MSc studies, Gabriella was interested in uncovering the potential of novel compounds to reduce breast cancer-related drug resistance, where she created a novel resistant cell line for investigation. Gabriella elaborated upon this research during her PhD, showing particular interest in the role of miRNAs in regulating cholesterol-mediated drug resistance in breast cancer. She assumed the additional responsibility of managing lab ongoings. Gabriella is currently working as a medical area manager at L'Oreal South Africa and is anticipated to continue growing in her success.