National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Prof Novel N Chegou

For a life’s work which has focused mainly on the immunology of tuberculosis.

Prof Novel Chegou’s nine patents and 99 publications is a tall stack of science on paper, but he’s actually working for the five-year-old child, suffering on a hospital bench because of a diagnosis that came too late.

“The way those children were sitting,” he says, recalling a recent hospital visit, “with tubes inserted all over their bodies. It’s disheartening.” These children had meningitis related to tuberculosis (TB). 

Unfortunately, getting that diagnosis can take up to six hospital visits, wasting valuable time that could have been used to treat the condition as soon as something serious was suspected.

Chegou, a full Professor at Stellenbosch University (SU), is developing rapid TB diagnostics that can be used at the point of care. His team already devised a finger-prick test that’s undergoing field trials in Africa and Asia, and he’s working with medical specialists on tests for conditions like TB meningitis.

His trajectory towards quicker TB testing in the African context took off around 2008, during a conversation with his PhD supervisor. TB diagnostics did exist, but Chegou figured that there must be other TB markers they could look at that were not detected by those tests. 

They soon found what they were looking for, and he remembers thinking, “this is so simple, why has nobody done this before?

“That was a moment that will remain with me for a long time, and that was the beginning of all the other things we are doing now,” says Chegou.

Besides the students he directly supervises on these projects in the Medicine and Health Sciences faculty, Chegou also provides full bursaries and research resources to four postgraduate engineering students at SU.

The prototypes they are creating together, and those devised in collaboration with others, are promising and gaining global recognition. 

“The interest shown by the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) and other major companies so far, attests to the potential impact that these tests will have in the management of TB disease globally,” says Chegou.

Prof Novel Chegou won the TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Researcher, for an outstanding contribution through research and its outputs over a period from 6 years up to 15 years of research work from the commencement of the research career, predominantly in South Africa. 

Prize sponsor: proSET (Professionals in science, engineering and technology), a sector of the NSTF representing almost 50 professional and learned societies. — ScienceLink

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

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