Professor Raj S. Ramesar

Head, Division of Human Genetics and Director of the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Research Unit, University of Cape Town

Professor Ramesar is Head of the Division of Human Genetics and Director of the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Research Unit at the University of Cape Town (UCT), Cape Town, South Africa, and its Allied Hospitals (Groote Schuur and Red Cross Children’s Hospitals). His work as Director of the Cancer Association of South Africa’s National Colorectal Cancer Research Consortium involves translating sophisticated molecular genetic research for application to rural and indigenous communities. Professor Ramesar was awarded the UCT Vice-Chancellor’s Alan Pifer Award (2009) for his research in this regard. He serves on the Executive Committee of the African Society for Human Genetics, the International Federation of Human Genetic Societies, and the editorial boards of several international journals. Professor Ramesar’s expertise is in the areas of mapping and identification of disease genes, genetic testing and counseling, phenotype/endophenotype/genotype correlation, and characterizing and cataloging genomic variations.

Professor Ramesar’s interest is in using the exciting developments in the field of genomic sciences to investigate human biodiversity. South Africa offers the opportunity to use population lineages in all of their richness toward identifying aspects of human biology related to both health and disease. In his current positions at the UCT, the emphasis of his research is on disease susceptibility in South African populations, progressing from commonly recognized inherited diseases to those that are more complex yet more common and relevant to the large disease burden. In this regard, Professor Ramesar’s most recent research enterprise is embodied in the large-scale project “Human Diversity and Health.” The richness of human population biodiversity has led to his latest quest to establish the research program “Heritage,” which crosses all academic boundaries and celebrates human origins and diversity (lineages, cultures, languages) and aims to identify those genomic fragments that predispose humans to disease. This quest will contribute to a more proactive and preventive approach to health. Tied closely to this quest is the expansion of research to cover genome-wide investigations pertaining to the burden of disease in Southern Africa and linkage with the “essential drugs list” (national drug formulary) and the relevant pharmacogenomically related-variants in the indigenous populations of Africa. As Director of the National Colorectal Cancer Research Consortium, his focus has been on the genetics of familial colorectal cancers and the most effective translation of laboratory findings to the field for the optimal benefit of patients and their relatives.

Professor Ramesar’s wife Jenny has a Ph.D. in medical virology, and they have two sons — Varish (18) and Nikesh (16) — and a daughter, Orissa (12). His non-academic pursuits include bonsai and painting (in watercolors and acrylics).