Hopes high that PhD research will inform new diabetes treatment strategies

Doctor of Philosophy in Health Sciences graduate, Dr Vuyolwethu Mxinwa.

Doctor of Philosophy in Health Sciences graduate, Dr Vuyolwethu Mxinwa.

Published Sep 29, 2022


By Lihle Sosibo

Newly capped Dr Vuyolwethu Mxinwa hopes that his research findings will further inform new treatment strategies aimed at preventing cardiovascular complications associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The researcher’s study resulted in him being awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Health Sciences (Physiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) during the university’s recent Spring Graduation.

Mxinwa’s study sought to understand the inter-relationship between the immune and metabolic systems, with a special focus on diet-induced obesity, metabolic syndrome and related cardiovascular complications.

His PhD research work showed that a high fat diet alters the metabolic system and the body’s ability to breakdown fats and glucose, leading to an increase in blood glucose insulin and cholesterol levels.

The study also revealed that the changes in glucose and cholesterol levels alter certain types of innate lymphoid cells as well as the proteins (referred to as cytokines) that these cells release in the blood.

Additionally, Mxinwa’s work illustrated that taking the lipid-lowering drug fluvastatin and the glucose-lowering drug metformin reduced the inflammation associated with specific innate lymphoid cells and improved blood glucose levels.

‘Huge accomplishment’

Mxinwa grew up in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, completing his matric at Siwali High - a rural school that had no science or computer laboratories at the time. His first encounter with computers was at UKZN.

“My PhD is a huge accomplishment, not just for me and my family, but also for the community I come from,” said the proud 30-year-old.

‘To my knowledge, I am the first person from my high school to obtain a PhD. I hope and believe I will not be the last, as my academic success should encourage more people from my community to enrol for postgraduate studies when there is an opportunity.”

Mxinwa enrolled at UKZN in 2018 and in 2020 was appointed as a lecturer in the Discipline of Human Physiology at the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences. He is still actively involved in undergraduate teaching and supervising MSc and Honours research students.

During the course of his PhD journey he authored and co-authored more than 20 publications and a book chapter.

He was recently awarded the Research Equipment Grant of R561 125 under the category of emerging researchers.

“My experience as a student at UKZN was great. I made friends and connections who have contributed greatly to my growth as a researcher and as a human being,” said Mxinwa.