Ms Nomfundo Praise Ntombela graduated with an MSc in Biochemistry after developing assays to identify non-specific compounds that are known as “promiscuous” for their ability to unselectively cause false positives in early drug discovery processes.
‘The identification and elimination of these compounds is important in early drug discovery so that time and resources can be devoted to true inhibitors,’ said Ntombela.
Ntombela ended up in Biochemistry after cultivating an early interest in a career in pharmaceuticals. She began her academic career in UKZN’s BSc4 Augmented Programme, having been attracted to the University because of its status as an internationally recognised institution, and said receiving an acceptance letter from UKZN was an honour.
‘I am so grateful that I started at this entry level,’ said Ntombela of the BSc4 programme. ‘I learnt a lot about handling the workload and what I actually wanted to do before moving to mainstream.’
Ntombela seized the opportunity to major in Biochemistry, and when she learnt about the drug discovery laboratory in the discipline, she knew that was where she wanted to end up.
‘My Master’s project was challenging and exciting, as we had to do something that had not been done before,’ said Ntombela. ‘We developed a novel biochemical assay that can concurrently identify true and promiscuous compounds. It can contribute to drug discovery processes as this is the first assay to identify both inhibitors in a single assay, saving time and resources.’
Ntombela is now registered for a PhD at UKZN to pursue her love for pharmaceuticals further, this time focusing on vaccine development.
She paid tribute to her late mother, Mrs Khanyisile Ntombela, saying that she would always be her greatest source of inspiration, and expressed gratitude for the love and prayers that her mother offered that are still bearing fruit.
Ntombela thanked her supervisors, Drs Raymond Hewer and Thandeka Khoza, for their guidance. She also expressed gratitude to her siblings Nomcebo, Nothando, Ntombifuthi, Nondumiso, Sbusiso and Lucky for their love and support.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan