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Prof Kevin Naidoo one of the four UCT scientists honoured by ASSAf

12 Oct 2018 - 13:00

Kevin Naidoo received his doctoral training (1989-1993) in computational and theoretical chemistry at the University of Michigan. Following this he spent two years (1994-1995) as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University working in computational chemical glycobiology. He joined the faculty at the University of Cape Town as a Computational Scientist based in the field of chemistry. The field of Computational Science is fundamentally interdisciplinary where researchers are T-shaped, unlike the traditional I-shaped researcher mostly encountered by subject specific review panels. Traditionally, universities create academics who specialize in one specific domain (I-shape). T-shape researchers, on the other hand, have a deep expertise of one field (their specific area of specialization, the vertical leg of the T) as well as competence in a broad range of disciplines central to finding meaningful solutions to problems such as cancer.  Knowing this distinction is important for the benefit of reading Professor Naidoo's research and contemplating the breadth of his contributions which range from programming Graphical Processing Units (GPUs) to perform accurate high speed calculations, through to being the PI on a clinical trial to establish a glycosyltransferase (GT) gene expression biomarker for the early detection of breast cancer.

 

The depth of his expertise (the vertical part of the T) lies in theoretical and computational glycobiology methods development. The motivation driving his methods projects is to deliver computational tools for data production and analysis in areas where experiments have reached their limits. Kevin Naidoo’s contributions to the vast field of Computational Science are inspired by his pursuit of the biochemical role glycoenzymes (enzymes acting on carbohydrates) play in glycobiology (chemistry and biology of carbohydrates in biology). Over the last five years he has narrowed his efforts to focus on discoveries that reveal glycoenzymatic mechanisms that explain distinct alterations to complex carbohydrates (glycans) in tumour development (aberrant glycosylation). Cancer glycobiology requires a breadth of knowledge and an understanding of broadly overlapping techniques in chemistry, genetics, computer engineering and informatics (the horizontal branches of the T). To achieve this he has branched out from his core expertise of using hardware accelerators to improve the accuracy and quantum calculations essential for investigating the reaction dynamics of the glycoenzymes. Looking to identify target glycoenzymes, he develops and uses bioinformatics methods to map out aberrant changes in tumour cell surface glycans defining cancers types. His computational discoveries have led to multi-team collaborations involving clinical researchers and basic biomedical scientists to search for glycoenzyme based cancer diagnostics and therapeutics

 

In summary, Professor Naidoo is an exceptional scientist who has had a significant impact in his field, nationally and internationally, both through his research and through a number of leadership positions