South Africa – Stanford

Johannesburg, South Africa

Site Institution
University of the Witwatersrand

U.S. Institution
Stanford School of Medicine

U.S. Based Mentor

Ami BhattAmi S. Bhatt, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Medicine and Genetics

Stanford University




Local Mentor

michele-ramsayMichèle Ramsay, MS, PhD
Director: Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience
Professor of Human Genetics
University of the Witwatersrand



Scott Hazelhurst

Scott Hazelhurst, MS, PhD
Professor, School of Electrical & Information Engineering
Associate Member, Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience
University of the Witwatersrand



Zane LombardZané Lombard, PhD
Research & Development team leader | Postgraduate training coordinator
Division of Human Genetics
National Health Laboratory Service &
University of the Witwatersrand


Research Focus

Genomics, bioinformatics, life expectancy, child and adolescent health, HIV/AIDS

Site Description

The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits). South Africa is experiencing the challenge of very rapid transitions in lifestyle, growth in non-communicable diseases caused by these changes, while still facing the burden of infectious diseases, particularly TB and HIV.  The Wits groups are exploring the environmental, social and genetic factors affecting these diseases.

There are three participating Wits groups, which collaborate with each other:

  • The Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB, PI: Ramsay), based at the main campus in Johannesburg will coordinate the GHES collaboration. It has a strong research focus in genomics and bioinformatics.
  • The MRC/Wits Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU, PI: Norris), based in Soweto addresses the national priorities of increasing life expectancy, decreasing maternal and child mortality and strengthening health system effectiveness. The DPHRU research platform supports runs several co-extensive longitudinal data from the Birth to Twenty cohort, the longest running study of child and adolescent health and development in Africa.
  • The MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (PI: Tollman) runs the Agincourt Health and Socio-Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS), located in rural northeast South Africa close to the Mozambique border. This is a poor area with a high incidence of HIV, and also undergoing very rapid transition in lifestyles.

Together the three Wits groups have strength in public health, epidemiology, endocrinology, genetics and bioinformatics. The three groups are also part of AWI-Gen — the NIH-funded Human Health and Heredity in Africa (H3A) collaborative center investigating genetic and environmental factors in cardio-metabolic disorders in African populations (2012-2017). As part of the AWI-Gen project a total of 12000 participants at six sites in four African countries have been recruited and finely phenotyped. All will also be genotyped on the Africa custom genetic single nucleotide polymorphism chip currently under development.