Chan Zuckerberg Initiative award for UCT postdoc

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced an Imaging Scientist award to Dr Caron Jacobs, postdoctoral fellow in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) and the Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa (CIDRI-Africa) at the University of Cape Town (UCT), for her programme “Democratizing Imaging for Infectious Disease Research in Africa”.

Founded by Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg in 2015, CZI leverages technology to help solve some of the world’s toughest challenges. Across three core Initiative focus areas of Science, Education, and Justice & Opportunity, CZI pairs engineering with grant-making, impact investing, and policy and advocacy work to help build an inclusive, just and healthy future.

Caron joins a cohort of 39 CZI Imaging Scientists from around the world working to advance microscopy, driving breakthroughs in disease treatment and prevention. CZI Imaging Scientists—engineers, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists and biologists with expertise in technology development—help researchers better visualise and analyse microscopy data.

“Our goal is to support the advancement of imaging technologies and provide access to and training on these state-of-the-art tools so that researchers can drive towards discoveries,” said CZI Imaging Program Officer Stephani Otte. “By collaborating closely with the imaging community and providing both funding and expertise in technology development, we hope to help make the next breakthroughs in imaging possible.”

Driving access to high-end microscopy in Africa

Microscopy drives discovery and translational research in many aspects of human biology and disease research, yet despite the disproportionate disease burden across Africa, access to high-end microscopy facilities and dedicated local expertise is severely limited.

Through her CZI award, Caron will create a set of context-driven microscopy training and internship programmes that serve the needs of local and international researchers. In parallel, she will establish a platform for infectious diseases (ID) imaging that complements the technology and expertise available within UCT’s Confocal and Light Microscope Imaging Facility. Larger in scope, Caron aims to grow a network of collaborators on the continent who will drive forward development of specialised imaging assays and computational approaches for ID research relevant to their local needs such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

“With training, internships and project incubator programs, we can start to expand the capacity and adoption of imaging to a large network of researchers.”

“This project is much more focused on community and outreach than my previous work, with a real emphasis on empowering African scientists,” said Dr Jacobs. “With training, internships and project incubator programmes, we can start to expand the capacity and adoption of imaging to a large network of researchers across the continent to change the perception that microscopy is inaccessible to them.”

Caron’s programme will kick-off with the launch of an imaging-focused seminar series in the second quarter of 2021; she hopes to recruit three interns in the first three years.

From PTA to LDN to CPT

Caron—who is originally from Pretoria—read for her PhD at University College London, where she used super-resolution microscopy to study how HIV manipulates the organisation of receptor proteins at the cell surface. Since joining the IDM and CIDRI-Africa at UCT as a postdoctoral fellow, she has focused on establishing imaging assays to study ID and cancer, while also working with the Confocal and Light Microscope Imaging Facility to train scientists in imaging methods and assisting with assay development. Caron believes microscopes such as the ZEISS Elyra S1 super-resolution microscope, which is housed in the IDM’s core biosafety level 3 laboratory, have great potential to drive discovery by giving researchers the ability to visualise experiments on pathogenic organisms and clinical isolates.

“Caron’s knowledge and research interests make her ideally suited to the critical task of exposing more researchers to microscopy techniques and applications”

“This is such an exciting development – I’m so pleased for Caron, for UCT, and the broader imaging community,” said Caron’s advisor Professor Digby Warner. “With massive input from [Associate Professor] Dirk Lang, head of UCT’s Confocal and Light Microscope Imaging Facility, the last decade has seen significant additions to the imaging hardware and infrastructure available within the IDM. Caron’s knowledge and research interests make her ideally suited to the critical task of exposing more researchers to microscopy techniques and applications, and her contribution to initiatives such as Imaging Africa confirm her commitment to education,” Professor Warner added