KeyNote Speakers

Professor Glenda Gray: President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)

TIME has named Glenda Gray, Full Professor: Research, in the School of Clinical Medicine at Wits, among the top 100 most influential people in the world.

Professor Glenda Gray has pioneered advances in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, which has saved thousands of lives. She is an alumna of Wits Medical School and established the Wits Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in 1996. She is currently President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and involved in HIV vaccine research.

Gray was born in South Africa and graduated as a medical doctor from Wits in 1986. In 1992 she qualified as a paediatrician from the College of Medicine South Africa.  Internationally acclaimed for her work in HIV research, Gray has broken new boundaries, redefined scientific excellence and pioneered groundbreaking medical research that has shaped global communities and saved lives. “Placing people at the centre of health research is the fuel for ensuring impact”, says Gray.  

While at the helm of the country’s medical research council, the custodian for health research in South Africa and globally known for its strategic impetus to respond to South Africa’s burden of disease, Gray also chairs the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases to lead research collaborations on chronic diseases worldwide. Her leadership style has enabled the SAMRC to acquire three consecutive clean audits, redirect resources to invest significantly in research in historically under-resourced universities and elevate the research agenda to build the next generation of black medical scientists in the country.

Gray’s story over the years is nothing shy of dedication, commitment, and passion for addressing health issues that have and still affect South Africans.  In 1996, together with James McIntyre, she co-founded the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (HPRU) based in Soweto where they developed a world renowned unit focused on HIV prevention and treatment.  In 2002, when the South African government propagated AIDS denialism and HIV-infected women antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to prevent transmission to their babies, Gray and McIntyre were awarded the Nelson Mandela Health & Human Rights Award for their work in response to this challenge. 

Globally the medical community took note of their work and in 2003, in recognition of their research and advocacy to bring lifesaving antiretroviral therapy to mothers and people in need, Gray and McIntyre received the Heroes in Medicine award from the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC).

“When you give a child an opportunity to grow up free of ill health, you give them hope to define a destiny of their own,” says Gray, recalling how HIV took from South African mothers the joy of seeing their children grow up. 

One of the highest orders in South Africa, the Order of Mapungubwe, was bestowed by the President on Gray for her life-saving research in mother-to-child transmission of HIV that changed the lives of mothers and their children and served the interests of South Africans. Since then Gray has been on a trajectory that has led her to becoming an internationally recognised leader in global health.       

In the mid- 2000s Gray saw that the only path to an AIDS-free generation was in the development of potent biomedical interventions. She thus turned her attention to HIV vaccine research, believing it was critical to ending the HIV epidemic, and focused her research on investigating potential HIV vaccine candidates.  As, the Co-Principal Investigator (PI) of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), an international network that conducts over 80% of the clinical trials of candidate HIV vaccines globally, she provides leadership at a global level with the HVTN PI, Larry Corey, and Co-PI, Scott Hammer.

Most notably, she spearheaded the clinical development of the South African AIDS Vaccine initiative’s HIV vaccines, the SAAVI DNA/MVA candidates and conducted the first trial using these candidate vaccines in South Africa and the United States. In November 2016, an ambitious programme was announced to evaluate an HIV vaccine regimen in South Africa that, if successful, could be the first HIV vaccine to be licensed globally. Gray and her team are leading this trial - HVTN 702 - the first HIV vaccine efficacy trial in seven years.



Profesor David Bates, PhD.
Professor of Microvascular Biology and Medicine
Scientific Director, Microvascular Research Laboratories, School of Physiology and Phar-macology, University of Bristol,
During my PhD I identified for the first time that fluid filtration into the arm was a key contibutor to breast cancer related lymphoedema (Bates et al1992, J Physiol). After a year training in molec-ular genetics at the University of Glasgow, I moved to the University of California at Davis, where I my postdoctoral work provided the first demonstration of somatic gene transfer into single mi-crovessels, and that VEGF increased extravasation of dye occurred by increasing hydraulic con-ductivity of capillaries (Bates and Curry Am J Phys 1996), through increasing calcium influx (Bates and Curry Am J Phys 1997). In 1996 I moved to a lectureship at Leicester University, where I continued to investigate VEGF signalling in vivo and showed that it works through a store independent mechanism (Pocock et al Am J Phys 2000), work that continued when I moved to Bristol in 1999 identifying its action through activation of TRPC channels (Cheng et al ATVB 2006). In 2002 I cloned the first of a novel family of VEGF splice variants (Bates et al Cancer Res 2002) that are antagonistic in many aspects for conventional VEGF isoforms (Woolard et al Can-cer Res 2004) but synergistic for others (Magnussen et al IOVS 2010). I have since described other members of this family of splice variants, identified a role for them in diabetes (e.g. Perrin et al Diabetol 2005), eye disease (e.g. Hua, IOVS 2010), renal disease (Amin et al Cancer Cell 2011), pre-eclampsia (MacMillan et al Clin Sci 2006, Bills et al Clin Sci 2009), and cancer (e.g. Varey et al BJ Cancer 2008), the mechanism of their control (Nowak et al J Cell Sci 2008) and action (Ka-wamua et al Cancer Res 2008), and effects on angiogenesis (Qiu et al FASEB J 2008) and permea-bility in health (Glass et al J Physiol 2006) and disease (Bills et al BJOG 2010). I have identified novel therapeutic candidates for anti-angiogenics through this mechanism (Woolard et al Chem Sci 2010, Nowak et al JBC 2010). I identified a novel mechanism for metastasis in skin cancer (Shields et al Oncogene 2007), through cytokines mediated recognition of lymphatics (Lanati et al Cancer Res 2010). My group has been instrumental in the recent breakthroughs in the understand-ing of the regulation of glomerular filtration (Neal et al JASN 2004), survival (Foster et al 2003) and permeability (Salmon et al AmJPhys, 2006) by the podocyte, showing for the first time that there is a downstream restriction to flow after the slit diaphragm (Neal et al Am J Phys 2004), and that this can be modulated by autocrine growth factors (Qiu et al JASN 2010), and modulation of endothelial glycocalyx (Salmon et al JASN 2012). I have also identified mechanisms through which shear stress can induce physiological neovascularisation (Benest et al Cardiovasc Res 2008), and generation of new arterioles (arteriolargenesis, Stone et al ATVB 2010). These findings have been published in over 110 papers over the last twenty years, most of which have come since 2004, in international journals such as Cancer Cell, Nature Cancer Reviews, JBC, J Cell Sci, ATVB, Cancer Research, FASEB J, J Am Soc Nephrol, Am J Physiol and J Physiol. I have directly super-vised 21 successful PhD candidates since my first in 2003, with a 100% succes rate, 19 of which are still in science or medicine and 27 postdocs, 9 of which are now in faculty positons, 2 as chairs. My students have found positions in internationally outstanding institutions such as the University of California (Davis, San Francisco and Santa Barbara), Sloan Kettering Memorial Centre, Weill Cornell, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories in New York, King’s College London, EPFL Lau-sanne, Heidelberg, and some are in faculty postions already (Cambridge and Bristol).


Dr Lijun Zhang obtained his PhD degree from the University of Pretoria in 2016 and his MEng and BEng degrees from the Wuhan University in 2012 and 2010, respectively. He is a SANAS accredited technical signatory for the measurement and verification of energy savings and an registered professional engineer with ECSA. His research interests include energy modeling, optimization and control system design for industrial processes, heavy haul trains, electric vehicles, building energy systems, micro-grids etc. He is currently a senior lecturer at the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at the University of Pretoria where he is also a Junior Chair on Energy Efficiency funded by Exxaro.