Dr Thandiswa Ngcungcu

Human geneticist, University of the Witwatersrand

Dr Thandiswa Ngcungcu has always loved science, particularly the science of life. “I really enjoyed the twoweek section of grade 11 biology that focused on genetics, and I decided that I wanted to learn more about genetics,” she says. She completed a BA at University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) with genetics as a major, and then did her honours, master’s and PhD in human genetics. She has joined the Division of Human Genetics at Wits as a lecturer.

Ngcungcu is particularly interested in the genetics of monogenic and complex skin disorders such as albinism and vitiligo, and understanding the genes involved in skin pigmentation. During her PhD project, she identified the causal mutation of a rare skin disorder that causes skin peeling in the winter months.

“I hope that this finding will lead to accurate diagnosis of the disorder and eventually, treatment of the disorder,” she says. While unlocking answers to scientific questions is massively rewarding, Ngcungcu notes that research science is not an easy road, and that nothing worthwhile comes easily.

Early on in her academic career, she struggled with chemistry, and was convinced that she would fail the subject and have to repeat the year. “I refused to drop the course since I was going to be charged for the whole year anyway, and I also simply refused to give up. I changed my study strategy and I passed the course and was able to continue to second year,” she says.

This tenacity has stood Ngcungcu in good stead, as she has won multiple research and travel grants in recognition of her work, including the Next Generation Scientist Programme in 2012. She was recently awarded a fellowship on the CRG Novartis-Africa Mobility Programme, which adds to her collection of accolades.

— Kerry Haggard

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/thandiswangcungcu- 16b60b2a/?ppe=1