Wits University Makes International Medical Breakthrough

University of Witwatersrand’s Faculty of Health Sciences Professors Viness Pillay and Girish Modi have developed a groundbreaking “nanoscience-based therapeutic” approach to treating degenerative brain disease.

The first of its kind on the African continent, this research has elicited large interest, with the publication of 40 medical papers, written by the Professors, in international scientific journals.

The Importance of The Breakthrough:

Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Motor Neuron Disease are three of the main neurodegenerative illnesses in the world, and with little to no known cause, they strike fear into the hearts of many.

“7-10% of people over 65 have Alzheimer’s. Can you imagine the vast numbers?” Says Professor Girish Modi, Head of Neurology, School of Clinical Medicine, at the University of Witwatersrand Faculty of Health Sciences.


Despite the absence of an identified cause, studies have indicated that genetics, environmental toxins and age can contribute to their onset

“With all these diseases the risk is increased with advanced age. With every five years of life the risk doubles,” says Modi.

Professor Viness Pillay – Director of the Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform, School of Therapeutic Sciences, at the University of Witwatersrand Faculty of Health Sciences – went on to explain that up until recently the treatments for these diseases have either been ineffective or helped to slow the disease down for a time before failing to work entirely. This is because they have been unable to directly reach the diseased area.

The two main reasons for this are:

  • The poor ability of the medication to cross the blood-brain barrier created by the vessels surrounding the brain
  • The inability of the medication to target the specific site of neurodegeneration.

The negative side effects that patients often experience when using this medication comes from its inability to target the specific site, as it then has an effect on areas of the brain that do not require treatment.

How The Nano-Technology Works:


The idea behind the new research is that by using nano-technology, that mimics the body’s biological systems, one can improve the distribution of the available medications to the affected areas of the brain.

The nano-technology will be able to easily navigate the blood-brain barrier and then target the specific area of degeneration by responding to the natural chemicals the body produces in reaction to the degenerative disease in question. This will allow the medication to treat the diseased area directly, thus improving the effectiveness of the treatment and limiting the side effects.

Why Wits & Not an International University?

Professors Pillay and Modi were able to conduct pioneering interdisciplinary research between advanced drug delivery and clinical neurology. Through this unique collaboration they combined clinical knowledge, pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmacology in a practical manner and were able to develop novel approaches for reaching sites of neurodegeneration.

Public Launch & Discussion of The New Research:

The Professors designs, methods and preclinical studies will be discussed at the 12th Prestigious Research Lecture of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Wits on the 10th June 2015 from 17h30 at the School of Public Health Auditorium, Faculty of Health Sciences, York Road, Parktown.

Join in for a discussion that is at the fore front of medical technology. This topic is personally relevant to us all as degenerative brain disease is a growing issue in the South African population.