In Remembrance: Professor Deon Bezuidenhout

25 May 2023

Dear students and colleagues

It is with deep sadness that we inform you of the passing of our colleague, Professor Deon Bezuidenhout (57), who was the director of the Cardiovascular Research Unit in the Chris Barnard Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery in the Faculty of Health Sciences. He passed away on Sunday,16 April 2023 due to illness.

Professor Bezuidenhout, who joined UCT in 1995, was internationally recognised for his leading work in the field of tissue generation. His research career spanned more than three decades and evolved from developing artificial arteries to complex transcatheter heart valves, while also collaborating with researchers from fields outside of cardiovascular medicine.

As head of Biomaterial Sciences, Professor Bezuidenhout pursued this goal by engineering cardiovascular scaffolds that act as sophisticated polymeric ingrowth matrices allowing for the selective incorporation of tissue specific bio-signals. His work with biomimetic hydrogels also received international acclaim – delivering drugs, proteins and genetic material in a controllable, sustained manner. He has over 100 issued and pending international patents on vascular grafts, stents, heart valves, biomimetic matrices, vein stents and related medical devices; and his publications have reached nearly 6000 citations.

Professor Bezuidenhout was a leader in his field, which is reflected in his recent appointment to the Chair of the Board of SA Heart. His enormous contribution to teaching and learning was tribute to the care and compassion he had for his students. Over the decades, he has supervised countless masters and doctoral students and went on to establish dissertation-based NSc (Med) and PhD (Med) biomaterial degrees at UCT. This unique pioneering feat reflects a major national development thrust towards biotechnologies in South Africa today. Furthermore, his ground up approach included the 100UP programme that annually encourages and helps 100 Grade 10 learners to pursue studies in science and engineering.

More recently he co-founded the UCT start-up company, Strait Access Technology, where he served as the technical director for developing low-cost polymer transcatheter heart valves specifically aimed at treating patients with rheumatic heart disease in the developing world.

Colleagues who worked closely with Professor Bezuidenhout will remember him for his warm heart and caring nature. He was more than a mentor to his students and colleagues and would often operate in the background to ensure success in an unassuming way. His compassion extended from the diplomatic resolution of work-associated difficulties to concrete and preceptive help in the personal arena. This gentle scientific giant will be dearly missed by all who knew him.

Professor Bezuidenhout is survived by his partner Sylke; his mother Eunice; his siblings Steven, Kevin and Leone; as well as his extended family and friends.

The university has reached out to offer support to the Bezuidenhout family and our sincere condolences go out to them and all who knew and loved him during this time of bereavement.

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