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Stellenbosch University graduate, specialist clinical pharmacologist and consultant at Tygerberg Hospital, Dr Veshni Pillay-Fuentes Lorente, has been awarded the Professor Bongani Mayosi Netcare Clinical Scholarship 2022 – an achievement she’s described as an “opportunity of a lifetime”.
The prestigious award covers the costs for Pillay-Fuentes Lorente to conduct her PhD in a full-time capacity over three years. Her PhD entails a pharmacokinetic study of the last-line antibiotic, Colistin, in paediatric patients under two years, and in critically ill adult patients in the South African setting.
The scholarship was set up to honour the legacy and vision of the late Professor Bongani Mayosi, a world-class clinician, scientist and much-loved teacher. It aims to create opportunities for deserving South African medical practitioners to further their studies and research in their specialist fields.
Mayosi dreamt of an African continent empowered to drive its own health agenda and to use science to improve health. One of his key goals was to transform society through investment in future generations of scientists, physicians and leaders. He believed science should be a force for social and political change, and ultimately, for economic upliftment.
In an interview, Pillay-Fuentes Lorente said she felt “truly honoured and privileged” to receive the highly-rated award.
Expanding on her PhD work, she said: “Over the past few years we’ve seen an increase in multi-drug-resistant gram-negative bacteria. These are resistant to many antibiotics and need to be treated aggressively. Patients with these infections can get very ill and we see them mainly in an ICU setting.
“One of the last-line antibiotics we use to treat these is called Colistin. There are newer products on the market, but they are unaffordable in our setting, which leaves us with Colistin. Nonetheless there is limited data about Colistin for paediatrics, neonates, infants and children between the ages of one and two and very little information on dosing recommendations for these populations. We also have very limited data in our South African population relating to Colistin exposures.
“I will do a pharmacokinetic study of Colistin in paediatric patients under two years and in critically ill adult patients in our setting.”
Pillay-Fuentes Lorente said her work will entail taking blood samples from patients and describing the drug exposures they see within these special populations.
“We want to gain an understanding of the variability in drug exposures we see among patients. We will use a tool called pharmacometrics which brings together characteristics of the drug, the patient and the disease using statistical and mathematical models to understand the variability in our population. From there we can dose optimise by simulating data.
“We can explain what we see in our population, and explain the differences we see in our population and try to optimise the dosing by suggesting new regimens.”
Pillay-Fuentes Lorente, who is originally from Durban, completed her MBChB at Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape in 2010, and then worked as a medical practitioner for seven years at government hospitals in Durban and the Northern Cape. She completed a two-year post-graduate diploma in Medicines Development and thereafter moved to Stellenbosch University, where she completed her MMed and in-training to become a specialist Clinical Pharmacologist.