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Etheresia Pretorius, PhD
Areas of Interest:
Haematology, biomarkers, amyloidogenesis, interleukins, Alzheimer and Parkinson Diseases, Alzheimer basic research
Biography & Research:
POSITION: I am a research professor at Stellenbosch University (Physiological Sciences: South Africa) (from 2017) and before this appointment I was at the University of Pretoria (UP) from 1999 to 2016. RESEARCH PROFILE: It is well-known that a great many (supposedly non-infectious) diseases are accompanied by chronic inflammation, but the origin of this inflammation remains mostly unclear. Hallmarks of inflammation are both a chronic hypercoagulability and upregulated inflammatory marker profile. Inflammation is therefore synonymous with a pathophysiological haematological AND coagulation system. My research has lead to a better understanding and novel discoveries regarding the functioning of the coagulation system during inflammation. These novel discoveries include eluding to the specific roles of high circulating serum ferritin levels as inflammatory marker, and addition of knowledge regarding the structural and biochemical changes to RBCs, platelets, fibrin and therefore, blood clotting, during inflammation - all prominent contributors to this hypercoagulable state. I specifically use viscoelastic and morphological readouts from super-resolution and electron microscopy, together with flow cytometry and thromboelastic analysis of clot structure. From these readouts, I have for the first time shown the presence of eryptotic RBCs in Parkinson's disease, and RBC pathology in ALL combinations of the various Haemochromatosis mutations. This in particular, has far-reaching implications for transfusion. My ultrastructural research on inflammatory diseases has provided extensive evidence that inflammation in chronic conditions is caused by the presence of a mostly dormant blood microbiome. The blood microbiome can be periodically resuscitated and is replenished via gut dysbioses, which accompanies all inflammatory conditions. The blood microbiome is the main source of the potent inflammagen lipopolysaccharide (LPS) which is closely associated with inflammation. I have found that the known requirement for free iron explains iron dysregulation and hydroxyl radical formation when the blood microbiome is activated. This, together with LPS results in RBC pathology and clot coagulopathies. My research has uncovered that hypercoagulable clots are actually a beta-amyloid form of fibrin that, similar to other beta-amyloids, is both inflammatory and cytotoxic. Hypercoagulable clots can be measured, and their formation tracked using our state-of-the-art microscopy techniques. The knowledge that LPS impacts coagulation pathophysiology, has great implications for the treatment of inflammatory conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other progressive neurological conditions. The biological insight, innovation and coherence of my research is therefore that biophysical and biochemical pathophysiology seen in RBCs, platelets and fibrin packaging are a significant accompaniment to a variety of (inflammatory) diseases and the reason for hypercoagulability. The technological innovation is to use viscoelastic and structural readouts together with latest state-of-the-art fluorescent marker methods (e.g. confocal microscopy and flow cytometry). Since 2000, I have published/in press over 235 ISI rated research papers, including papers in high impact journals like The Lancet (IF: 45.2), Journal of Hepatology (IF:11.36) and Nature (Scientific Reviews) (IF: 5.7). I was asked to write a review on the usefulness of RBCs in the new precision medicine approach, in the clinically orientated journal, Blood Reviews (IF: 6.6) and the novel discovery of a blood microbiome was published in FEMS (IF:13.2). I have been a regular reviewer for over 70 journals, including The Lancet. I am also associate editor of Journal of Alzheimer's Disease (IF: 4.15). I have supervised 27 MSc students and 11 PhD students. I am currently supervising 3 MSc, 10 PhDs and 3 postdoc students. These students include several African, female candidates. I have delivered keynote and plenary lectures at numerous international conferences. My current Google scholar H-factor is 28. I have received various research grants, which includes private sector funding, as well as National Research Foundation (NRF-SA), Medical Research Council (MRC-SA) and an UK research grant with one of my collaborators, prof Douglas B Kell from The University of Manchester. In 2014, I received an NRF (South Africa) Equipment grant for a scanning electron microscope; and in 2015, I again received an NRF-SA Equipment grant for a super-resolution confocal microscope. In 2008, I received an Exceptional Young Researcher award (University of Pretoria) and in 2011, I was the recipient of the African Union Kwame Nkrumah Scientific Awards Programme (Basic Science and Technology: African Women in Science). I am one of the 3 most productive researchers at the University of Pretoria over the past 8 years (up to 2016 and the most productive author in the Faculty of Health Sciences (UP) over the last 10 years (2006 to 2016). I was a finalist in the South African NSTF–BHP BILLITON Awards (2014/2015). In conclusion, I have added novel knowledge regarding the origin and pathophysiology of inflammation, particularly with regards to coagulation and my research have improved the understanding of the role of the haematological system, particularly RBCs and clot structure, as a marker of healthiness. My overarching focus is systemic inflammation.