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Renowned University of Pretoria academic takes topics like Stem Cell Research and Gender Identity to the public arena

By Nicolize Mulder

Posted on 16 July 2013

Renowned University of Pretoria academic takes topics like Stem Cell Research and Gender Identity to the public arena
Renowned University of Pretoria academic takes topics like Stem Cell Research and Gender Identity to the public arena

We regularly see headlines in the media around stem cells, DNA and the human genome, as well as sexuality which might be considered ‘different’ – the list is long. Questions about the interplay between our genetic makeup and parental influence in defining who and what we are never seem to cease.

The story of Pippie’s miraculous cure has virtually become a daily staple. Likewise, the conflicting debate about sexuality and gender rages on. But how does science underpin and make sense of these issues in the headlines? How does research explain much of what grips the public’s imagination?

In a series of lectures entitled The Science of our Times, renowned academic Professor Michael Pepper, Director of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and a professor in the Department of Immunology in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria, distinguishes between hype and hope, fact and fiction.

The three lectures cover the topics on Stem Cells, the Human Genome as well as Sex Determination and Gender Identity. The first presentation entitled Stem Cells - the hype and the hope will be held on Tuesday, 6th August 2013 at the Atterbury Theatre at 19h00. Bookings can be made through Computicket.

Stem cells

Much has been said and written about stem cells. While providing a great deal of hope, the information on stem cells may also at times be misleading, particularly to emotionally vulnerable patients and their families. This presentation will examine the origin and definition of stem cells, their undisputed therapeutic potential but also their potential for abuse.

Prof Pepper’s presentation will take the audience back to the early stages of human development with a view to defining the nature and origin of stem cells. The interaction between nature and nurture defines the final product, as stem cells differentiate to become one of the more that 250 cell types that make up the human body.

South Africa is uniquely positioned to provide an exciting setting in which to explore many of life’s most important and sometimes puzzling conundrums. With the greatest genetic diversity on the planet and an increasing certainty that humans originated in southern Africa, our country contains an unparalleled wealth of information on the relationship between nature and nurture in determining who and what we are.

 

Who is Professor Michael S. Pepper?

Prof Michael Pepper is Director of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and a professor in the Department of Immunology in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria. This Institute is the first of its kind at the University, where research which aims to benefit patients is conducted.

Prof Pepper is also an associate professor in the Department of Genetic Medicine and Development in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

He obtained his MBChB in 1982 from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Cape Town, and moved to Geneva in 1986, where he obtained his PhD in 1990 and MD in 1992. In 1997, he obtained his habilitation, the highest academic degree in Switzerland, and had the title Privat docent conferred on him. He returned to South Africa in July 2004.

Prof Pepper is a leader in the medical research and biotechnology sectors in South Africa. He has worked extensively in the field of clinically-oriented (translational) molecular cell biology, and his current interests include cutting-edge research in stem cells and the human genome. He is also co-responsible for the Southern African Human Genome Programme which was launched in January 2011 – a national programme that aims to put South Africa on par with the rest of the world in terms of genomics. He is a member of the National Advisory Committee on Innovation, which provides advice to the Minister of Science and Technology, and has developed a highly acclaimed course in Bio-Entrepreneurship which is now in its fifth year.

Prof Pepper has more than 200 medical and scientific publications and has received a number of awards for his research. He has been extensively involved in teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and is frequently solicited as a speaker at local and international meetings. He has a gift of being able to translate difficult scientific topics in such a way that they can be easily understood by non-scientists. He interacts regularly with the media and writes for the lay press on medical and scientific matters in order to bring an understanding of medicine and biotechnology to the general public.



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