Start main page content

Staff and Students

Support staff
Project Office
Manager: Strategic Development

Jocelyn Gayenga

Senior Project Manager (AWI-Gen)

Furahini Tluway

Project Manager (MADIVA)

Kerry Glover

Grant Programme Manager

Thabo Gumede


Agnes Manamela

Senior Researchers
Director: SBIMB

Prof. Michèle Ramsay

Michèle Ramsay (PhD) is director of the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB), Professor in Human Genetics and South African Research Chair in Genomics and Bioinformatics of African Populations at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is immediate past-president of the African Society of Human Genetics and the International Federation of Human Genetics Societies, as well as co-chair of the International Hundred Thousand+ Cohorts Consortium (IHCC). She collaborates with all the senior scientists at the SBIMB on projects related to genetic associations with complex diseases (mostly related to cardiometabolic diseases and traits), pharmacogenomics and population genetics.

Her research centres around a single question: What is the role of genetics and other risk factors in making some people more susceptible to developing disease than others? The research team explores genetic variation in African populations and seeks to understand gene-gene and gene-environment interactions that influence disease risk. She feels strongly that extensive collaboration, large datasets and novel analysis techniques are the catalysts for knowledge to fuel precision medicine approaches (especially with a focus on African populations) and the emergence of novel insights into the demographic history of anatomically modern humans and evolutionary forces that have shaped the genetic landscape and the health of extant populations. Michele has taught, supervised and mentored human geneticists in Africa, and capacity development and strengthening is a central theme underpinning her work.  

Head of Bioinformatics

Scott Hazelhurst

Scott Hazelhurst is Professor of Bioinformatics in the School of Electrical & Information Engineering and Senior Scientist at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of the Witwatersrand. He received his BScHons and MSc from Wits and his PhD from the University of British Columbia.  His research areas include bioinformatics and high performance computing. He is PI of the MADIVA Research Hub (Multi-morbidity Action through Data Insights and Visualisation for Africa), a research hub of the NIH’s Data Science Initiative for Health Innovation in Africa. MADIVA is a collaboration between the SBIMB, other Wits-based groups, the African Population and Health Research Centre in Nairobi, SAPRIN and IBM Africa.  Scott collaborates on microbiome, genome-wide association studies, population genetics and pharmacogeneomics projects within the SBIMB. 

Distinguished Professor

Chris Mathew

Chris Mathew (PhD, FMedSci) is a Distinguished Professor in Human Genetics at the University of the Witwatersrand and Emeritus Professor of Molecular Genetics at King’s College London. He is based at the SBIMB, where he leads the Cancer Genetics research group. His research program is focused on the discovery of the drivers of genetic susceptibility and tumour development in common cancers in people of African ancestry, particularly in breast, oesophageal and cervical cancer. His group collaborates closely with Professor Michele Ramsay and the team of statistical geneticists and bioinformaticians at the SBIMB, and with Professor Paul Ruff and colleagues in Medical Oncology at Wits.

He has also established collaborations with international institutions such as the Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge in the UK, and the National Cancer Institute in the USA, and is part of a pan-African cancer research consortium with Dr Maureen Joffe at Wits involving research groups in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria and Germany. His overall goal is to build a lasting research capacity in cancer genetics and genomics in South Africa, and ultimately to see the fruits of his work translated into improved early diagnosis and personalised therapy for African cancer patients. His non-academic interests include exploring the cultures and wines of different countries and following the ups and downs of the English cricket team.   

Distinguished Professor

Collen Masimirembwa

Collen is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Witwatersrand based at the SBIMB. His research focus is in clinical pharmacogenetics and in preclinical drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics.  In clinical pharmacogenetics, his work aims to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of implementing pharmacogenetics guided precision medicine. This work is also expected to uncover any as yet unknown novel African population specific genetic variation to explain observed drug responses. Currently he is conducting research on the pharmacogenetics of tamoxifen in breast cancer treatment in women of African ancestry which is funded by SAMRC and NIH. This project is being done in collaboration with Dr Maureen Joffe’s group and involves one PhD student, Shingirai Chiwambutsa. With Prof Michele Ramsay, he is also working on the pharmacogenetics of antihypertensives in black South Africans. This project is funded by SAMRC and involves a PhD student, Kuda Nyamupa. Collen is also working on the pharmacogenomics of anti-TB drug induced liver injury together with Profs Neil Martinson and Ananyo Choudhury. This project is jointly funded by Novartis and GSK trough SAMRC and plans to recruit a PhD student to the project.

In the field of preclinical drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, Collen is working with Prof Michele Ramsay, Drs June Fabian, and Jerome Loveland to establish an African liver tissue repository to support drug discovery research that is inclusive of people of African ancestry. Collen’s non-academic interests include his love for martial arts. He has been training Karate for over 30 years and is a Third Dan karate instructor (Sensei). 

Senior Scientist

Ananyo Choudhury

Ananyo Choudhury is a Reader at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, His research interest areas are population genomics and genomics of complex traits. He has contributed to some of the landmark African genomic initiatives such as the H3Africa genotyping array design, the H3Africa Whole Genome Sequence Study, and the Southern African Human Genome Program. He co-leads several components of the AWI-Gen study nested under the H3Africa consortium and co-chairs the Genome Analysis Working Group of the consortium. He is one of the PIs for the NIH-funded AGenDA consortium study aimed at generating the largest and most diverse high-coverage whole-genome sequence dataset from Africa to date.

Ananyo is also working on the pharmacogenomics of anti-TB drug-induced liver injury together with Profs Neil Martinson and Prof Collen Masirembwa This project is jointly funded by Novartis and GSK through SAMRC. He obtained his basic training in Zoology from the University of Kalyani and a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics from the University of Calcutta, India. 

Honorary staff
Associate Member

Prof. Mandeep Kaur

Visiting Professor

Prof. Almut Nebel

Almut Nebel is a Professor of Molecular Medicine within the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology at Kiel University in Germany. She has a PhD in Molecular Biology obtained from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Her main interests are in disease and population genetics as well as in ancient DNA analysis. She spent eight years at various research institutions, including Dunedin, Jerusalem, and at Wits in Johannesburg. After her return to Germany in 2003, she continued her career as a Senior Scientist at Kiel University where she was appointed as professor in 2008. In her current research, she primarily investigates the molecular basis of human longevity and the role of genetic variation in health and disease, with an emphasis on host-pathogen and human diet co-evolution processes. She collaborates with scientists at the SBIMB 

Honorary Researcher

Dr Palwende Boua

Dr Boua is a Researcher in Human Genetics at the Clinical Research Unit of Nanoro (CRUN), IRSS-DRCO, Burkina Faso. He also holds a Senior Researcher position (Honorary) at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Biosciences (SBIMB), University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. He has skills on statistical genetics, genomics and bioinformatics and is proficient in phenotype and genome data QC, genome-wide association study, polygenic risk score, gene-environment interaction analyses, and downstream in silico functional analyses. He has interest in GWAS data, in the population genetics studies, in nutrition-related disorders, in the data analysis of smoking and alcohol consumption and body composition data in African populations. He is experienced in cardiometabolic phenotype and genetics, and has done extensive work in genetics of atherosclerosis in African.

His aim is to contribute in statistical genetics methodological approach, analysis and precision public health translation/impact. After returning in Burkina Faso following the completion of his PhD, he has initiated multiple training in genomics and bioinformatics in Burkina Faso with the support of H3ABioNET. He has been an active member of the H3Africa Consortium, CHARGE Gene-Lifestyle Interaction Consortium, PRIMED Consortium (CARDINAL Study) and others. Dr Boua attracted multiple research grants, on which he is/has been Principal Investigator on six of them. 

Affiliate Member

Dr Abram Kamiza

Dr Abram Kamiza research interest is to identify environmental, genetic, and epigenetic factors associated with cancer development. Currently, he is working to identify genetic factors associated with cervical cancer in black South African women using genome-wide approaches. He also aims to identify lifestyle factors causally associated with cervical cancer. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Medical Laboratory Science at the University of Malawi, and his MSc and PhD degrees in Genetic Epidemiology at Taipei Medical University in Taiwan.  

Honorary Researcher

Dr Ovokeraye Oduaran

Dr Ovokeraye Oduaran is an honorary research fellow at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. She has taken the role of being a chair of the H3Africa’s Microbiome Task Force. Her research broadly focuses on the role of the gut microbiome in cardiometabolic diseases on the African continent. She believes that in-depth knowledge of the microbiome will greatly inform the current understanding of disease etiology.

Honorary Researcher

Dr Andrew May

Dr Andrew is a medical scientist by training with expertise in lab-based, bioinformatics and psychological research, particularly in an African context. His research interests are human development and behaviour, from genetic, psychological and evolutionary perspectives. His research also focuses on exploring precision medicine for the future and how genetics might affect response to COVIGen-SA Host genomics of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) in African populations.


Dr Carl Wenlong Chen

(Dr) Wenlong Carl Chen is a Medical Scientist and Researcher joint appointed at the South African National Cancer Registry (NCR), Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB) and the Strengthening Oncology Services Research Unit (SOSRU), Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand. He is responsible for the management of the clinical and laboratory research portfolios nested within the NCR and SOSRU. Some of the flagship studies include: the Johannesburg Cancer Study (JCS), the Evolving Risk Factors for Cancers in African Populations study (ERICA-SA), the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) funded Men of African Descent and Carcinoma of the Prostate study (MADCaP), the NIH funded South African Breast Cancer and HIV outcomes study (SABCHO) and the Predicting Progression of Developing Myeloma in a High-Risk Screened Population study. His main research interests lie in studying the genetic aetiologies and epidemiology of common African cancers, with a particular focus on African oesophageal cancer. He graduated with a PhD in Human Genetics in 2022 from the University of the Witwatersrand, under the supervision of Prof Christopher Mathew. In his spare time, Carl is a triathlon enthusiast. 

Researcher/Honorary Staff 

Dr Tinashe Chikowore 

 Tinashe is currently a Wellcome Trust International training fellow at the Witwatersrand University (2019-23). His research interests are evaluating the interaction of genetics and lifestyle factors that include socio-economic status, diet, exercise, sleep and alcohol intake in complex disease traits such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension in people of African ancestry (AWI-Gen and H3Africa CVD Working group) He has interests in the application of polygenic risk scores in African populations (CARDINAL). He is a part of the international collaborations which include the Genetic Investigation of ANthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Precision Medicine Initiative. 

Research Laboratory and BioBank
Research Laboratory and BioBank Manager

Natalie Smyth

Research Assistant

Busisiwe Mthembu

Laboratory Assistant

Teagan Lobb

Bioinformatics Office
BioNet Lecturer

Shaun Aron

Bioinformatics Consultant

Phelelani Mpangase

MADIVA & AWI-Gen Data Scientist

Theophilous Mathema

LEAP-EPI Research Assistant

Ngwako Kwatala

MADIVA Research Assistant

Daphine Nyachowe

Post-doctoral Research Fellows
Dr Dhriti Sengupta

Dhriti Sengupta is a Postdoctoral researcher at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Her research is focused on bridging some of the major gaps in our understanding of African population history and fine-scale characterization of population structure, admixture and demographic history of Southern African populations. As a core member of AWI-Gen analyst team, she has been co-leading/contributing to several genome-wide association studies based on this pan-African cohort. She has been working closely with the H3Africa Bioinformatics network and the H3Africa genome analysis working group on several cross-consortium projects including the H3Africa array and imputation resource, H3Africa WGS study and African Genome Variation database. She received her basic training in Zoology and a PhD in Bioinformatics from Calcutta University, India

Dr Jean-Tristan Brandenburg

Dr Jean-Tristan Brandenburg has a broad range of interests in the research field of molecular bioscience and human genomics. His research is focused on how to used bio informatics to resolve genetics problem and analyses of genetics data. His interest and focus has varied over the years and range from analysis of diversity and population genetics in different species as human, fungi or maize (corn) using various type of data as whole genome sequencing; detection of rare mutation using whole genome sequencing; epidemiological analysis of kidney in Africa; genetic association of genotype / phenotype using high coverage data with a focus on cardiovascular diseases and cancer genetics

Dr Houcemeddine Othman

Dr Houcemeddine Othman’s research interest is in applying bioinformatics and data science tools to study pharmacogenomic diversity in Sub-Saharan Africa and its implication on drug-response mechanisms. In his position at the SBIMB he has primarily worked on implementing structural bioinformatics methods within high throughput genome annotation pipelines to predict the impact of mutations. He uses these approaches to characterize the pharmacogenomic landscape of African populations and to predict the effect of genetic variability on drug response which might improve the clinical guidance for drug indication in precision medicine.  He obtained his Ph.D. at Institut Pasteur of Tunis in 2017, focusing on studying the mechanisms of actions of venom peptides and the drug-designing of new inhibitory and immunosuppressing peptidomimetics targeting cancer and auto-immune diseases. 

Dr Luicer Ingasia Olubayo

Luicer is a Sydney Brenner Charitable Trust (SBCT) postdoctoral fellow hosted at Sydney Brenner Institute of Molecular Biosciences (SBIMB), University of Witwatersrand in partnership with the University of Edinburgh (UoE). She has been recognized as one of the young and upcoming female scientists through awards- L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science (FWIS) and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD). Although her background is infectious diseases especially pathogen genomics; malaria genetics and genomics and hepatitis B virus, her research interest is in understanding the human genome variations and the traits and what influences the environment has on the genome as well as focus on the host-pathogen interactions. In addition, she is also interested in the intersect between the infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases, host genetic factors in relation to disease susceptibility and severity and gut microbiome-gene-environment interactions. She believes big data analyses; phylogenetic and bioinformatics analyses have an important role to play in managing various disease conditions and in drafting policies to combat and eliminate infections.

The fellowship Luicer currently holds offers the opportunity and the platform to achieve her dream through networking, collaborations and trainings. Luicer graduated with a Master's degree in Molecular Medicine from JKUAT (Kenya) and a Ph.D. Internal Medicine from (Wits) in 2021 under the supervision of Prof. Anna Kramvis. Her Ph.D. research involved understand the global dispersal of genotype E within- and outside Africa using phylogenetic and phylogeographic analyses as well as constructing a hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotype E replication competent plasmid with authentic promoters and functionally characterizing. Luicer goes by “Lulu” and enjoys creative arts especially painting with her daughter. In her spare time, she also enjoys trying new recipes, cooking her Kenyan delicacies such as chapati, dancing, hiking and travelling. 

Dr Vivien Chebii 

Vivien Chebii is a post-doctoral Scientist at the Sydney Brenner Institute of Molecular Biosciences, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Vivien's research interests are in human genomic research where she seeks to understand the role of genetics, environment, and lifestyles in the prevalence of cardiometabolic diseases in the African population. Vivien is part of Bioinformatic analyst of the AWI-gene team where she does genome-wide association studies of glycemic traits in African populations. Vivien is also interest in pathogen genomics and genetics of mental illness related research. Before joining the Sydney Brenner Institute of Biomolecular Sciences, Vivien was a researcher at the International Livestock Research Institute, Kenya where her research focus was on livestock genomics.  

Vivien obtained her BSc degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya (2010), an MSc degree in Bioinformatics from Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, China (2015), and a Ph.D. degree in Life Sciences (Biodiversity and Management; Conservation genomics), Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, Tanzania (2021). In her free time, Vivien enjoys shopping online, gardening and volunteering in community services. 

Dr David Twesigomwe

David is currently doing a prestigious 4-year postdoctoral fellowship based at the SBIMB (Wits), and co-hosted by the University of Edinburgh, with funding support from the Sydney Brenner Charitable Trust (SBCT). His research aims to address knowledge gaps on African-ancestry pharmacogenomic variation and the utility of clinical pharmacogenetics implementation in Africa. Through the SBCT mentorship and support at the SBIMB, David is excited about the opportunity to contribute to precision medicine advances in Africa, developing reproducible pharmacogenomics pipelines, and collaborating with scientists in Africa and abroad.

Prior to starting his postdoc, David graduated with a PhD (Human Genetics) in 2022, based at the SBIMB, under the supervision of Prof Scott Hazelhurst and Prof Zané Lombard. David’s PhD aimed to characterise the genetic variation in African populations for three important pharmacogenes, i.e., CYP2D6, CYP2B6 and CYP2A6, through analysis of high-depth whole genome sequence datasets. Besides his research, David enjoys doing sport—especially tennis and cycling

Postgraduate Students
Student name Degree Project Title
Balebogiye Nonyane MSc Exome sequencing in families affected by vitiligo
Nerija Ngundu MSc Clinical Genomics of African Oesophageal Cancer
Nhlamulo Khoza MSc Characterising the combined effect of cytochrome P450 missense variants within the star allele nomenclature
Carl Belger MSc Lion microbiome profile
Thandeka Malinga MSc Characterisation of the genetic variation in pharmacogenes involved in anti-tuberculosis drug metabolism across African populations
Blessing Sitabule PhD  Structural Bioinformatics Analysis of CYP2D6 pharmacogenetic variation relevant to Sub-
Tabitha Osler PhD Prevalence and consequences of variants in genes associated with breast cancer in black South African women
Shingirai Chiwambutsa  PhD Pharmacokinetic and Pharmacogenetics modelling and simulation of tamoxifen in African breast cancer women to guide individualized treatment
Kudakwashe Nyamupangedengu  PhD Exploratory framework for a pharmacogenetics guided treatment algorithm for high blood pressure in black South Africans
Heather Seymour  PhD Host Genomic Factors in Susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 and Severity of COVID-19 in Black South Africans
Claudine Nkera-Gutabara PhD Snapshot of the gut microbial diversity of an urban south African population: impact of diet, lifestyle and socioeconomic status
Michelle Kamp PhD The development and value assessment of a cardiovascular disease polygenic risk score in South Africa
Merusha Naidoo PhD DNA methylation analyses of genes involved in hormone regulation across the menopausal transition
Melanie Govender PhD Genetic associations with kidney disease in African populations
Natalie Smyth PhD Understanding the genetic basis of high and low LDL-cholesterol levels in African populations
Michaella Hulley PhD Differential gene expression in exfoliation syndrome and exfoliation glaucoma in conjunctiva of black South Africans
Mahtaab Hayat PhD Investigating the genetic aetiology of breast cancer in black South African populations
Surina Singh PhD Genetic associations with blood pressure and hypertension in African populations
Raylton Chikwati PhD Body Fat Distribution and Cardiometabolic Disease Risk Factors during the Menopause Transition in African Women