Cancer Research Group

Prof  MJ Cronjé:  Cancer Research 


Group photo of UJ Cancer Research - Back (From Left to Right): John Walters; Colette Orsmond; Prof. Marianne Cronjé; Eloise Ferreira; Tamarisk Horne.Front (From Left to Right): Nicola Skerman; Xolani Sikhakhane; Zelinda Human.
Back (From Left to Right): John Walters; Colette Orsmond; Prof. Marianne Cronjé; Eloise Ferreira; Tamarisk Horne.
Front (From Left to Right): Nicola Skerman; Xolani Sikhakhane; Zelinda Human.


Typically, cell death is thought of as a pathological phenomenon, but considering the adult human body produces and eradicates approximately 60 billion cells per day, the control between self-renewal and elimination of cells is vital for survival of multi-cellular organisms. Physiological cell death has important roles in a wide variety of normal processes including in defence against pathogens such as viruses, tissue homeostasis, immunity and many aspects of reproduction. Physiological or programmed cell death generally occurs by apoptosis, a programmed cell-suicide mechanism. Disorders in the regulation of apoptosis contribute to many disease pathogeneses or progression and involves either impaired cell eradication or turnover (e.g. cancer) or uncontrolled cell loss (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease). In fact, uncontrolled cell proliferation and eventual tumour development is considered one of the hallmarks of oncogenic cell transformation. Studies have focussed on the understanding of the regulatory pathways governing apoptosis, and armed with this knowledge, have led to many studies to induce apoptosis in cancer cells by triggering core components of the cell death machinery. Understanding these molecular events that regulate apoptosis in response to anticancer therapy and how cancer cells evade apoptotic cell death provides novel opportunities for the development of molecular therapeutics that target cell death pathways.


We are focussing our attention on a number of compounds able to induce apoptosis in cancer cells, including those present in indigenous medicinal plants and a series of novel metal compounds synthesised in-house by Prof Reinout Meijboom from the dept. of Chemistry. These so-called metallo-drugs are currently being patented.


Prof Cronjé is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the International Cell Death Society (ICDS) and recently established and hosted the inaugural meeting of the SA Cell Death Society, a chapter of the ICDS, in Cape Town in January 2011. Aspects of the cell death work have been presented at several ICDS meetings, including: Invited speaker; ICDS satellite meeting (Cancer in Cell Death), Nice, France, 5-7 June 2007.  Invited chair; 7th ICDS meeting, Shanghai, China, 3-7 June 2008. Invited speaker; ICDS satellite meeting (Molecular Therapeutics by Scientists without Borders), Tehran, Iran, May 2009. Organized and hosted the 8th ICDS meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 June 2009. Invited speaker; 9th ICDS meeting: “Multidisciplinary Approaches in cell Death Research from yeast to man”, Antalya, Turkey, 28-31 May 2010. Invited chair; 10th ICDS meeting, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 10-13 June 2011.


Prof Cronjé kick-started her research when she was awarded the NRF Thuthuka grant for a full funding cycle after completing her PhD. She was awarded the Top Achiever in the Woman in Science category in 2007. She has subsequently obtained funding from the NRF’s Mobility grant and Focus area grants. Many of her students are NRF Innovation or Prestigious grant holders, while one student holds a UJ-CSIR scholarship. All of the students currently active on the cancer projects were awarded UJ-CANSA bursaries. The recipients of the 2010 UJ-CANSA bursaries had the opportunity to present their work at CANSA’s biennial research conference entitled Awareness, Coping and Beyond, A Women’s Health Cancer Conference for our Time, that was held on 8-10 September 2010 at the Southern Sun Hotel OR Tambo International Airport Johannesburg. Eloise Ferreira received first prize for the best poster presentations her research. Nicola Skerman was the co-recipient of the SASBMB prize for the best Honours student in 2008. Nicola also recently returned from a visit to the labs of Prof Zahra Zakeri of College University of NY, where she tested one of the medicinal plant’s ability to induce apoptosis in several cancerous cells. One of Prof Cronjé’s students, Stephan Mumm, is currently undertaking his MSc research project at a German university made possible by the MoU with Tuebingen University and another student, Kailen Boodhia, is conducting his research at the NIOH under the co-supervision of Prof Mary Gulumian.





Eloise Ferreira                PhD Biochemistry                          Jan 2010 – Dec 2013


Nicola Skerman               PhD Biochemistry                          Jul  2011 – Dec 2014


Tamarisk Horne              PhD Biochemistry                          Jan 2009 – Dec 2012


John Walters                     PhD Biochemistry (PT)               Jan 2007 – Dec 2012


Colette Orsmond             MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2010 – Dec 2011


Xolani Sikhakhane          MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2010 – Dec 2011


Stephan Mumm               MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2010 – Dec 2011


Kailen Boodhia                 MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2010 – Dec 2012


Zelinda Human                 MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2011 – Dec 2012




Student Training Record:


Masters (* graduated cum laude):




Snyman, Marisha                            MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2001 - Dec 2002


Kresfelder, Tina                              MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2001 - Dec 2003


Grant, Byron                                     MSc Zoology (Co-supervisor)      Jan 2003 - Sep 2004


Jones, Amber                                   MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2003 - Dec 2005


Alho, Donovan                                  MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2004 - Dec 2005*


Bhamjee, Rabia                               MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2005 - Dec 2009


Horne, Tamarisk                              MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2006 - Jun 2008


Jackson, Ashleigh                            MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2006 - Dec 2007*


Yiannakis, Nicole                              MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2006 - Dec 2007


Ferreira, Eloise                                 MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2007 - Jun 2009*


Skerman, Nicola                               MSc Biochemistry                          Jan 2009 – Dec 2010


Reddy,  Andrish                                 M Ing (Co-supervisor)                  Jan 2009 – Dec 2010






Snyman, Marisha                            PhD Biochemistry                          Jan 2003 – Dec 2008


Kresfelder, Tina                               PhD Biochemistry                          Jan 2004 – Dec 2007