BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS: Professor Monique Zaahl is the first black woman with her own DNA lab, GENEdiagnostics. She is hoping to make gene-testing affordable. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - The elite world of science is a tough industry to break into but the founder of GENEdiagnostics, Professor Monique Zaahl, has proved that it can be done.

She is the first black woman with her own private DNA testing lab, which she started through a combination of her perseverance and dedication.

Zaahl, a mother and scientist, developed her passion and interest in human genetics in her third year of studying at the University of Stellenbosch.

“I have always been very driven and wanted to have the best education possible. It was a combination of content and a very good lecturer, Professor Louise Warnich, which interested me,” said Zaahl.

Professor Monique Zaahl founded her own DNA lab through perseverance and dedication. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

Years later, after completing her studies at the University of Stellenbosch, and part of her PhD at Oxford University, Zaahl founded GENEdiagonistics while working at the same university that has been home to the beginnings of her human genetics aspirations.

With GENEdiagonistics, Zaahl wanted the world of science to be more inclusive to those who have previously experienced obstacles accessing health resources.

“Genetic testing has for many years been known to be available only to an elitist group, because of the cost of testing. I aim to make testing affordable and therefore available to all economic groups,” she said.

Today, GENEdiagnostics employs four scientists in the laboratory, all motivated and determined to empower their clients on the make-up of their genetics. The lab offers a range of testing including ancestry tests, paternity tests, forensics, molecular genetic tests for a group of diseases and pharmacogenetics.

The elite world of science is a tough industry to break into but the founder of GENEdiagnostics, Professor Monique Zaahl, has proved that it can be done. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)
Professor Monique Zaahl is the first black woman with her own DNA lab, GENEdiagnostics. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

The Somerset West-based genetics provider is also 100% black-owned, a fact that Zaahl and her team are proud of. Managed by a woman, Zaahl has worked to make her company a great hub of testing, training and research services.

She admitted that starting a private lab was high risk, especially as she has a daughter to provide for. Having battled a divorce and a cancer diagnosis, Zaahl advised on the importance of persevering when times are hard.

She had to “slow down” in the business before she was able to operate her lab at full capacity again.

While her position in the field as a black woman who made it through years of education, research and lecturing is a source of pride, Zaahl said: “My opinion is that women in general, irrespective of race, have it more difficult in this industry. I was always challenged and questioned as a black woman on every level possible, but this did not stop from being where I want to be.”

There's an adequate number of females in the genetic research field, but the challenge is to break through that glass ceiling.

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Cape Argus