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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Extraordinary Women: Prof Jeanine Marnewick

Rooibos is good for you.

This is the word being spread by Prof Jeanine Marnewick, who heads up the Oxidative Stress Research Unit at the CPUT.

Marnewick made history in 2011 when her clinical trial revealed that drinking six cups of rooibos per day holds definite health benefits, and specifically helps to reduce oxidative stress in the body and lower the risk of heart disease.

She shared her findings with CPUT news:

Can you tell us more about your research on rooibos?

There are very few human studies currently available on rooibos to evaluate the health promoting effect of this proudly South African product, and we were the first to report the protective effect six cups of rooibos have on adults at risk for heart disease.

This study was the result of years of doing basic scientific research on rooibos, and thus for me personally a landmark in my career as a scientist. Subsequently, more scientists from across the world have reported on the health benefits of rooibos.

Apart from the scientific importance of this study, the evidence also serves to inform and educate the consumers of rooibos in our communities. Recently, news reported an increase in the popularity of rooibos across the world. For a scientist this means research coming full circle, from the test tube to influencing the community and the economy in some way or another.

What research projects are you currently focusing on?

As is the case in most scientific fields, results generate more questions and thus require more research to be done. This is exactly the case with rooibos and we are involved with a number of studies now ranging from basic research (investigating the bio-activities of the other indigenous herbal tea, Honeybush), to another clinical intervention study that is earmarked for the near future that will involve a multidisciplinary approach with both national and international collaborators.

What do you enjoy most about being a researcher?

Over the years as the emphasis of one’s work moves more towards management, I realized that the most enjoyable time I have had was as a young researcher with fellow students in the laboratory getting our hands dirty.

Now I am privileged to share my knowledge and expertise with my postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows I supervise, and there is nothing more heartwarming and rewarding for me to see them develop into a young researcher with a will to make the world a better place through their research.

What do you attribute your success to?

Very often the public has the perception of a scientist being a very lonely figure working behind closed doors. In my case it cannot be further from the truth, as looking back now on my career I realized that I have always been part of a team and associated myself with experts in the field in order to grow my own research network and team, and that is a great part of success. “No man is an island”. Of course personal attributes such as curiosity, patience, tenacity and having a strong work ethic are crucial for succeeding as a scientist.

Do you have any words of advice for the generation of women researchers behind you?

It is extremely important to have a very good foundation in science, thus from school focus on science and mathematics, know your field of science, become the expert, surround yourself with professionals in the scientific community.

As a woman you will be facing different challenges, tackle them head-on, do not compromise your own values, never lose your curiosity for science, be patient, hardworking and you will reap the rewards.

Remember the famous quote: “A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong it is until it is in hot water”. 

Written by Candes Keating

Tel: +27 21 959 6311
Email: keatingc@cput.ac.za

Provides coverage for the Engineering and Applied Sciences Faculties; the Bellville and Wellington Campuses, and research and innovation news.