Department Of Virological Pathology


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The discipline of Medical Virology was established at Medunsa Campus in 1978 when Dr Sidney Shipman started a viral diagnostic service for GaRankuwa Hospital [now renamed the Dr George Mukhari Hospital] and began training academics in Virology for the former Medical University of Southern Africa (Medunsa). Professor Jennifer Alexander succeeded Dr Shipman in 1981. In 1988 Professor Mike Lecatsas succeeded her and headed the department until his retirement in March 2005. The current head of Virology, Prof Jeffrey Mphahlele, succeeded him in March 2005.

Initially, Virology functioned as a division within the Department of Microbiological Pathology, but in 1993 it achieved full departmental status. Presently staff members include full and part-time lecturers, administration officers, medical natural scientists, medical laboratory technologists, specialised auxiliary officers and general assistants. Postgraduate medical science students, medical technologists and medical registrars are regularly trained in the laboratory.

Virology is included in the curricula of numerous undergraduate courses. On a post-graduate level, the Department offers courses leading to qualifications such as M Med., BSc (Med.) Honours, MSc (Med.) and PhD in Virology. The Department of Virology is involved in co-operative education with various Universities of Technologies (former Technikons) and departments, and offers training for medical laboratory technologists at diploma and degree levels, as well as supervision for Masters and PhD Degrees.

While research interests and projects in the department cover a broad spectrum of subjects, particular fields of interest and expertise include the HIV, hepatitis and gastro-enteritis viruses. The department is well equipped with modern research facilities that allow for the study of viruses at molecular level. There are two research laboratory units in the department: the HIV and Hepatitis Research Unit (headed by Dr Gloria Selabe) and the MRC Diarrhoeal Research Pathogens Unit, under the directorship of Prof Duncan Steele and Ms Mapseka Seheri.

The viral diagnostic laboratory processes >2500 specimens monthly. Currently the laboratory offers various serological tests for different viruses that are pathogenic to humans, and is able to isolate viruses from clinical specimens in cell cultures. Some direct viral detection assays are also offered; these include direct immunofluorescence, serological assays and molecular tests that include HIV PCR and viral load assays. HIV viral load assay is offered as part of management of HIV patients on ARV therapy.

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