A gem in the making
The history of women in science contains many a tale of unrecognised talent, overwhelming male prejudice and tragic circumstances. Until recently, pioneering work was not taken seriously or had to be attributed to male colleagues in order to be acknowledged. In some cases, the acknowledgement they deserved arrived only many years later. Despite this, there are a handful of brilliant women scientists who have changed our lives and the way we see the world. Laura Millroy, a student researcher at the CSIR, dreams of being counted among these women scientists who make a significant difference in people’s lives.
Millroy is currently registered for a PhD in molecular medicine with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and her project at the CSIR looks into developing a new antiretroviral therapy for HIV-positive patients. Her journey to becoming a scientist started in 2005 with a BSc in genetic and developments biology and then she went on to do her BSc Honours. By 2010 she had completed her Master’s in Biotechnology, also with Wits.
Millroy is a recipient of numerous awards. Early this year she was awarded the 2012 Biotech Fundi Research Award for research in Molecular Medicine. She also recently attended an International AIDS 2012 Conference in Washington DC, USA where she presented research done towards her PhD.
She co-authored two books with Dr Makobetsa Khati, who heads CSIR Biosciences Emerging Health Technologies Platform with the most recently published book titled: Nucleic Acid Toolkit: Potential Diagnosis and Treatment of Major Infectious Diseases Endemic in Developing Countries.
HIV/Aids and tuberculosis (TB) are two major infectious diseases that define public health problems in developing countries. The book aims to give an overview of the epidemiology and also provides an understanding of the pathology of these diseases. It also provides insights into their current diagnostics and treatments and the future prospects. In particular, the book highlights the use of nucleic acid therapies and focuses on the use of aptamers as potential treatment and diagnostic tools for these diseases. Aptamers are synthetic nucleic acid or amino acid ligands that can be isolated to bind specific targets such as HIV and TB molecules with high affinity. Examples of the successes and failures of aptamers are drawn upon to provide a full understanding of the technology. The advantages over existing technologies are also discussed so as to illustrate the potential of aptamers in a number of applications. The book also looks at shortfalls and future prospects of aptamer research.
Millroy’s love for science began from quite an early age. “I have always been interested in how things worked. This has stayed with me all my life and I am always keen to learn new skills and make discoveries. I remember when I was very young, I loved to do the chemical test for the pool and calculate how much chlorine and acid was required,” she says.
“My parents have had a huge influence on my development as a person and a scientist. They have always supported me and encouraged me to do my best, even when for a brief period I almost took fine arts as a major over science,” she says.
Charlotte Maserumule, a student researcher working closely with Millroy says: “Laura is an incredibly talented, proactive, innovative, enthusiastic and optimistic young woman. Her warm and bubbly personality makes her a delight to work with. She is always encouraging and helpful to others – a great team-player.”
“She is a multi-talented individual and she uses her talents fruitfully in both her academic and extra-curricular activities. Not only is she a promising emerging scientist, but she is also a generous philanthropist – doing her bit for the community through her involvement with youth science engagements at SciBono and the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, to name a few,” adds Maserumule.
“Laura is passionate about science projects and activities that have potential socio-economic benefits and has a keen interest in business. I see her in the near future either running a successful biotech company or as a consultant in portfolios that invest in science and cutting-edge research,” concludes Maserumule.
Millroy has lived in Johannesburg her whole life and her parents still live in the house she grew up in. Her family is relatively small with all her extended family living outside of the country. Growing up, she spent most of her time with her older brother and friends, and for a short while her cousins, before they moved abroad.
Besides being hooked on her studies, Millroy enjoys arts and crafts and spends her spare time building things and painting.
Communications and Marketing Manager: CSIR Biosciences
Sibusiso Ralarala, email: SRalarala@csir.co.za