Lebogang Thobakgale, a researcher from the CSIR’s biophotonics
research team, recently presented research findings on laser-based HIV
diagnostics at a global conference in San Francisco.
Dubbed the world’s largest photonics event, the Society of
Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) Photonics West conference
attracts thousands of researchers and technology developers from around the
globe to discuss and learn about the latest photonics products and
Thobakgale presented on Label-free detection of HIV-1
infected cells where lasers are used to trap cells and detect HIV-1 without the
need for chemical markers via integration of optical tweezers and
“The opportunity to present our research findings on
laser-driven label-free approaches of detecting HIV-1, which is the novel, high
specific and unique, in living biological cells was an exciting experience. The
“Label-free” detection project is centred on detecting and distinguishing
differences between HIV infected cells against non-infected cells,” said
He also presented research work on femtosecond laser
assisted photo-transfection and differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells.
This entails using lasers to insert DNA into cells for the purpose of making
different types of cells.
Thobakgale also had the opportunity to engage with
scientists and engineers in the fields of spectroscopy and nanoscience on the
advancement of biosensor technology and the challenges they experience in their
respective countries. This technology detects and describes the molecular
content of samples using lasers and the study of their dimensions at a
“I had fruitful engagements which made me realise that South
Africa is not far behind in advancing their own research with respect to what
is being done in other continents. Like many of us, they experience the same
challenges,” said Thobakgale.
“This made me realise the importance of local and
international collaborations with like-minded people, so as to fast track our
training towards being more confident in our own skills, taking calculated
risks that lead to more published articles and ultimately, producing technology
demonstrators that can be showcased on world stage,” continued Thobakgale.
“Our group aims to apply optical/photonics methods in the
biological fields for the purpose of detection, diagnosis and screening of
various cell-based diseases that are currently plaguing our country,” said
Thobakgale said the research was critical to treat
cell-based ailments like Parkinson’s, liver and heart disease.
Thobakgale says the skills he gained will assist him to develop
a biosensor system to diagnose and screen the progression of cancers in
patients undergoing therapy in rural areas.
“At an advanced stage, my wish is to see such a study bring
out a new photonics screening database that will help both scientists and medical
doctors to better understand the broad spectrum of how these diseases thrive in
our communities countrywide,” concluded Thobakgale.