School of Chemistry & Physics

Chemist’s PhD Focuses on Combatting Diseases at a Molecular Level

Dr Adele Cheddie was just nine years old when she conducted her first science experiment to impress her friends.

She also took part in various science competition; thus feeding her incessant curiosity and need to seek out answers which inspired her to become a scientist.

Choosing to study at UKZN, she obtained her BSc qualification majoring in Chemistry, Biochemistry and Microbiology going on to complete an Honours degree in Medical Science, summa cum laude, followed by an MSc in Chemistry.

Cheddie’s latest accomplishment – a PhD in Chemistry – honed in on drug discovery research. ‘My thesis involved the identification of hit compounds, their synthesis, characterisation and screening, using specialised assays for their therapeutic efficacy,’ she explained.

Cheddie said she made a conscious decision to pursue her research instead of entering the workplace. ‘I chose a PhD over a day job because a doctorate is so different and enriching in its own way. It is challenging and allows for the freedom to be innovative and conduct meaningful research,’ she said.

Cheddie’s work focuses on combatting diseases at a molecular level. ‘I synthesised a class of compounds called benzimidazoles which were combined with amino acids and thiazolidinones to create hybrid compounds. These compounds were screened against drug resistant bacteria for their potential as new antibiotic agents,’ she explained. Her research is promising as many of the compounds were far more effective than currently prescribed antibiotics.

Cheddie described her PhD experience as hard, intense and frustrating at times. However, she also felt rewarded, as it filled her with a sense of purpose. ‘My PhD has allowed me to pursue my love for research, and I am amazed knowing that I’ve contributed to the body of knowledge in my field,’ she said.

Professor Neil Koorbanally, who supervised Cheddie’s research in UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics, said: ‘Adele was an amazing student. Her tenacity and courage has got her to where she is today. She has done exceptional work for her doctorate, moving toward the direction of finding solutions for the antibacterial crisis experienced globally. Her research was really cutting-edge science. She is a role model to all those aspiring to be young scientists.’

Recognising the lack of female scientists in South Africa, Cheddie wants to become an ambassador for women in science. ‘I have been participating in outreach programmes where science is promoted among our youth,’ she said. ‘I am especially interested in encouraging young girls from disadvantaged communities to consider a career in science.

‘I want to be able to look at how the education systems in other countries are developed and employ some of this information to develop our scientific sector,’ she explained

A self-described “INFJ” (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging) personality type who wants to save the world, Cheddie possesses ample enthusiasm and passion for science to help her find answers. All the evidence suggests that she is well on her way.

Words: Sashlin Girraj

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan