Having completed her Master’s degree in Chemistry at UKZN in 2015, Dr Christina Kannigadu felt like there was something missing; an inclination which would lead her to applying for and studying towards her PhD.
‘My area of expertise was in medicinal chemistry. After my Master’s degree, I felt like I there was something missing. I wanted to create a novel study and test myself to produce an even better body of research. This inspired me to register for my PhD so I could then gain a more extensive knowledge on drug design and pharmacology,’ said Kannigadu.
Ms Kannigadu’s research focused on synthesising a bioactive molecule referred to as Curcumin which is a principle component in turmeric; a widely used culinary spice. She made three classes of this compound that then underwent antibacterial, anticancer and antimalarial testing.
Growing up in Phoenix, north of Durban, which is place gradually overcoming its many psychosocial issues, Kannigadu felt she was being governed by systems of patriarchy that stereotype women. Furthermore, with science still extremely a male-dominated field, Ms Kannigadu wanted to pursue her PhD so as to rise above the unheard voices of women who live in the shadows of oppression.
‘Doing a PhD meant that I could be guided into the light so I could be empowered enough to create my own path and destiny for myself and emerging leaders,’ she said.
Her research has shed light on the importance drug design plays in combating various diseases which have no cures. ‘Medicinal chemistry is a field of research that creates technologies and medicines that combats these deadly diseases. This gives hope to many people who suffer with chronic illnesses,’ said Kannigadu.
She recalls her own negative mindset as her biggest obstacle in her academic journey, but adds that this was always nullified by her extremely supportive supervisor, Prof Neill Koorbanally, as well as her research group. ‘I have watched Christina grow from an undergraduate student to a remarkable, accomplished chemist and scientist over the last few years. She has worked extremely hard over the years to obtain her PhD. I am sure she will make an impact in Organic Chemistry in the near future,’ said Koorbanally.
Having been raised by a single mother of four in an environment where the capabilities of women are limited to bearing children and taking care of their households, Kannigadu recalls how her mother always pushed for her to further her studies despite her (mother’s) economic struggles.
‘I will always take pride in the fact that I am the first educated woman in my family as well as in knowing that closeminded gender stereotypes will never besmirch and hinder my succeeding generations,’ said Kannigadu.
She is currently pursuing a postdoctorate in nano-medicinal chemistry at UKZN. She hopes to work for a leading pharmaceutical company and in the coming years, impart her wisdom onto younger generations.
Words: Zolile Duma
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal