Karen Sliwa-Hahnle, professor of cardiovascular research and director of UCT's Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research, has been awarded a top international award for her research into cardiovascular prevention, heart failure and the pathophysiology of cardiomyopathy.
The Paul Morawitz Award is the highest annual award for exceptional cardiovascular research for people from German-speaking countries (Austria, Switzerland and Germany), and can be given to scientists, cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons or paediatric cardiologists.
The award's laudation notes that Sliwa-Hahnle studied as a physician in Berlin, Germany, and subsequently worked at the University of the Witwatersrand.
"In 2010 she was appointed as professor of cardiovascular research and the director of the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa, at the prestigious University of Cape Town, South Africa," the laudation says, adding that, "due to her scientific excellence and international success, she made German cardiology internationally visible."
Sliwa-Hahnle said cardiovascular research was performed at a very high standard in Germany, with a huge funding volume and many innovations over the past 100 years. "It is a great honour to receive this very prestigious award."
During her years in cardiovascular research, Sliwa-Hahnle established a theme of projects called the Heart of Soweto Studies, which are recognised worldwide. The projects investigate the prevalence, presentation and management of cardiac disease in an urban African population.
"These studies on more than 8 000 patients highlighted the high prevalence of hypertension, obesity and cardiac disease in Africa, and have resulted in more than 20 publications so far. They have also been used to train eight postgraduate students, mainly physicians, who did their doctoral theses and PhD projects using aspects of these studies," said Sliwa-Hahnle.
She recently expanded the project to include other African countries such as Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and Sudan, and has also designed a number of innovative research programmes and has leveraged funding for several major research projects - not only in South Africa and the rest of Africa, but also internationally.
Sliwa-Hahnle's research on the physiology, clinical outcome and therapy of peripartum cardiomyopathy, a disease affecting women post-delivery, resulted in the establishment of the Peripartum Cardiomyopathy Working Group, which she chairs.
This group has leveraged funding for a 1 000-patient international registry on PPCM, and the project is expected not only to improve knowledge of this disease (which occurs in 1 in 1 000 South African women), and - ultimately - patient outcomes, but also to further enhance UCT's international reputation as a centre for leading medical research.
Her special focus on heart disease in pregnant women also addresses the World Health Organisation's Millennium Goal 5: to reduce maternal and child mortality.
"I see myself as a mentor for young academics struggling to lead a balanced life which incorporates clinical work, enjoying research, having a partner and children and finding some time for themselves," says Slilwa-Hahnle.
"The award is important for strategic planning, as we have just submitted an application for a large German-African collaborating group. Hopefully, having received the Paul Morawitz Award will increase our chances of success."
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