University of Limpopo (UL) Health Sciences legend Marianne Alberts recently received the Vice Chancellor’s Lifetime Excellence Award as well as a Research Excellence Award from Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UL, Mahlo Mokgalong after she had retired as a professor at the age of 91 during July.
According to a media release by UL, Alberts was born in Ostersund in the North of Sweden and did her undergraduate studies at Lund University where she obtained a degree Filosofie Kandidate (Fil.Cand) in Chemistry, Botany and Genetics.
She arrived in South Africa in 1954 to take up a researcher role at the CSIR’s Human Biochemistry Unit, focusing on nutrition and its effects on health.
In 1955 she was awarded the Sir Ernest Oppenheimer Research Grant and visited research institutions involved in cardio metabolic research in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. She obtained a Doctorate from the University of Pretoria (UP) in 1963 and relocated to Polokwane where she took up the position to establish the South African Institute of Medical Research (SAIMR) Laboratory and worked at the institute as Research Assistant until 1974.
In 1975, she assisted with lectures in Physiological Chemistry in the Department of Physiology and continued to lecture in the Department of Physiology until 1978. She then became acting Head of the new Pathology Department and between 1981 and 1986 was Head and Professor of the department. In 1984, the Department of Nutrition was established and she was appointed acting Head until December 1985. In 1986 she retired from the UL but was involved in part-time lecturing and later full-time in the Department of Medical Sciences until 2016.
In 1995, with a grant from the Norwegian Universities Committee for Development Research and Education (NUFU), the Dikgale Health and Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS) site was established and a project titled ‘A study of the major non-infectious diseases among the rural population of South Africa’ was undertaken involving several post-graduate students.
Since 1996 she was Site Leader of Dikgale HDSS and in 2017 became Director of Dikgale HDSS. In 2010, the Dikgale HDSS was expanded to approximately 40 000 people with a grant from the Flemish Inter Universities Council (VLIR). Also with the grant, the project ‘Prevention, control and management of chronic diseases in a rural population Limpopo Province, South Africa’ was undertaken with the involvement of post-graduate students.
In collaboration with the University of Witwatersrand and six HDSS sites from South, East and West Africa, a grant from the National Institute of Health, USA was obtained for the project titled ‘Genomic and Environmental risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases in Africans’. She was the Principal Investigator for the Dikgale HDSS part of the project between 2012 and 2017.
In 2017, with a grant from the Department of Science and Technology, Dikgale HDSS expanded to a population of 100 000 people under surveillance. The name was then changed to Dimamo Population Health Research Centre, to reflect the additional areas involved, namely Dikgale, Mamabolo and Mothiba. This culminated in the establishment of a centre of excellence at UL where she was the director. The new centre did not only boost the interdisciplinary research and intervention capability at the university level but also had a national significance as a nodal site of the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network (Saprin).
Dikgale HDSS is a founder member of the International Network of Demographic Evaluation of Populations and their Health (Indepth) established in 1998 and that now has 44 members’ sites in Africa and Asia. Collaborative research projects on health-related problems are undertaken.
The professor has supervised eight and co-supervised two PhD students. She has also successfully supervised 18 Masters students. She authored and co-authored 60 articles that were published both in national and international journals.
Story: BARRY VILJOEN