Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) masters student Jessica More has been crowned winner of the KwaZulu-Natal regional FameLab competition.

She was one of 10 early career scientists between the ages of 20 and 35 who participated in the two-day FameLab training and competition, recently hosted in Durban by AHRI and Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE).

The training is designed to develop science communication and public engagement skills and capacity. Participants then presented a three-minute talk to a live audience, including a panel of judges.

Jessica put her FameLab science communication training to work in a three-minute talk about the balls of immune cells – known as granulomas – that often form in TB patients.

She likened immune cells to the 1980s arcade video game Pac-Man, saying they “munch” bacteria and debris in an attempt to control infections. She also compared her search for specific markers in immune cells to GPS technology.

“This science-based version of Google Maps allows us to know exactly where immune cells are and possibly what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they contribute to TB lung disease,” the immunology student said.

Why does her work matter? “There is very little information on the markers of immune cells in TB lung granulomas in our diverse African population. Using advanced mapping technology, markers may be used to predict TB disease progression in the future. They can also be targeted for the development of treatments to boost the current regimens.”

(Above: Masks were back during Jessica More’s winning three-minute talk)

The FameLab runners-up at the heat were Nombali Gumede from the HIV Pathogenesis Programme, and UKZN biological sciences student Kayla du Bois.

FameLab is an international science communication competition which is produced by Cheltenham Festivals in the UK and run in South Africa by Jive Media Africa and the NRF-SAASTA. Provincial finalists go through to a national final, and the ultimate winner will represent South Africa at the international event finals.

(Top photo: KZN FameLab contestants, from left to right: Dr Zolelwa Sifumba, Nhlakanipho Xulu, Kayla du Bois, Azile Shandu, Nondumiso Mpanza, Nombile Gumede, Nontsikelelo Yaka, Antony Rapulana, Kerishka Rajkumar, Jessica More and Ashley Jalazi)