Current Projects

Historical perspective

The Non-Communicable Diseases Research Unit (NCDRU) was formed in 2013 during the revitalization of the South African Medical Research Council. The unit was established by merging three existing units which were previously conducting research in different areas of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and by attracting additional staff from other units affected by the revitalization process. The three units merged to form the NCDRU were:

  1. The Chronic Diseases of Lifestyle Research Unit (CDL)
  2. The Diabetes Discovery Platform (DDP)
  3. The National Collaborative Research Programme on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases (NCRP CV&MD)
NCDRU led projects
Project title Short description Principle Investigator NCDRU investigators
CaDERAL: Cardiometabolic Diseases Risk Evaluation and Reduction in African People Living with HIV Infection
Care of people with HIV across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is provided through dedicated parallel health streams, primarily designed to address HIV and related infectious co-morbidities. Consequently, the opportunity of addressing co-morbid non-communicable disease (NCD) is not fully realized in this population in regular contacts with the health system. Integration of HIV and NCD care has been suggested to improve the co-detection and co-management of co-morbid HIV and NCDs. Key to the success of this integration is a better understanding of the burden and drivers of NCDs in people with HIV, and appropriate strategies for promoting their care without compromising HIV specific care.  CaDERAL is a 5-year program of research and capacity development, in view of establishing a sustainable network to generate the evidence to inform successful integration of HIV and NCD care in SSA. The proposal builds on an existing platform comprising the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC, lead institution), the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) and the Clinical Research, Education and Consultancy Network (CRENC) in Cameroon. Our program of research is developed around three complementary projects. In Nigeria, using data from the NIMR HIV cohort of nearly 24,000 HIV people on ART with over 15 years of follow-up, we will investigate the incidence, remission and determinants (including HIV predictive characteristics) of dyslipidemia and impaired kidney function. In Cameroon, we will use the country arm of the ongoing International Epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA), to characterize the baseline distribution and determinants of cardiometabolic risk factors in nearly 20,000 adults in care for HIV infections. Across the two country we will assess and strengthen the scope of data collection for improved research on co-morbid NCDs and HIV. In South Africa, we will execute a clinical trial to determine the effect of mobile phone text messaging support, to improve the uptake and adherence and outcome of hypertension care in patients with comorbid HIV and hypertension. The three projects will support the training of three PhD students, mentoring of junior researchers; and result in several peer-reviewed publications and communications at conferences.

This project is part of the EDCTP2 programme supported by the European Union

Prof Andre Pascal Kengne
Dr Kim A Nguyen
Dr Muyunda Mutemwa
Utilizing HIV/AIDS infrastructure as a gateway to chronic care for hypertension in Africa Investigating the prevalence, awareness, treatment and control of chronic non-communicable disease risk factors, particularly hypertension, in patients attending HIV-treatment centres in the Western Cape Province of South Africa
Mobile phone text messages to support hypertension treatment adherence in adults attending HIV treatment centres in the Western Cape Province of South Africa: a pilot study
Andre P. Kengne
Nasheeta Peer
Kim Nguyen
Muyunda Mutemwa
Erica April
The South African Diabetes Prevention Programme (SA-DPP) The overall purpose of this project to develop and evaluate a culturally-relevant model of diabetes prevention programme for South Africa, using evidence from successful diabetes prevention effectiveness and implementation programmes. Our expectations are to arrive at a model that will inform lifestyle interventions to prevent diabetes and other lifestyles related conditions at primary health care level in South Africa, and serves as a prototype for adaptation in other countries in the region that are confronted to similar challenges like South Africa. Andre P. Kengne Julia Goedecke
Nasheeta Peer
Jillian Hill
Deborah Jonathan

Erica April
Cindy George

Cape Town vascular and metabolic health Project The overall purpose of this programme of research is to establish a population-based cohort, backed up by adequate biorepository, in order to quantify and track the burden of cardio-metabolic diseases in mixed-ancestry South Africans in Cape Town, with a particular focus on the role of emerging risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases. Andre P. Kenge  
The African CKD Consortium To build a network of investigators that will use individual participant data meta-analysis to study the epidemiology of chronic kidney diseases across Africa Andre P. Kengne Cindy George
NCD-RisC African Chapter
The aim of this initiative is to pool and analyse data from various source to assess the burden and trend of major NCD risk factors in Africa overall and by country and subregions.

Over 100 collaborators from Africa and the global North.

Andre P. Kengne
Nasheeta Peer
The Vitality-SAMRC-UCT project
The aim to build a natural cohort using data for Discovery member enrolled in the Vitality wellness program, to enable the study of the epidemiology of NCDs in South Africa. Andre P. Kengne  
Dietary patterns and dietary quality of 6–24 month old South African children The aim of this study is to assess dietary patterns in relation to energy/nutrient intakes and nutritional quality in terms of nutrient adequacy, nutrient density and dietary diversity in 6 – 24 month old South African children of low socio-economic status. Mieke Faber  
Mechanisms underlying insulin resistance in obese black SA women: Lessons from an exercise intervention.  This study measures changes in insulin sensitivity and secretion in response to a 12-week exercise intervention in obese black SA women. Determinants of change include ectopic fat deposition; skeletal muscle and adipose tissue mitochondrial function, gene and protein expression; metabolomics and lipidomics; substrate metabolism, dietary intake, fitness and habitual physical activity. Funding: National Research Foundation Competitive Programme for Rated Researchers. Julia Goedecke
Amy Mendham

Cindy George

Non-Communicable disease risk in black South Africans: dissecting the role of glucocorticoids.  This study aims to gain genetic insight into the variation in the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis in a black population and to understand the physiological consequences of this variation and associations with NCD risk. Funding: Academy of Medical Sciences, Newton Advanced Training Fellowship, in collaboration with Prof B Walker, University of Edinburgh, UK Julia Goedecke  
Identification of metabolic pathways that predict type 2 diabetes in black South African women. This study aims to identify metabolites and/or metabolic pathways that predict progression to impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes in black South African women, and to determine whether these metabolites/metabolic pathways are modified by lifestyle factors, including diet, physical activity and socioeconomic status. Funding: Swedish Development Grant, in collaboration with Prof Tommy Olsson, University of Umeå, Sweden. Julia Goedecke Amy Mendham
Determinants of type 2 diabetes risk in middle-aged black South African men and women: dissecting the roles of sex hormones, inflammation and glucocorticoids. The study aims to examine the changes in sex hormone levels over the menopausal transition in women, and in men of the same age, and explore the effects on body fat distribution and insulin sensitivity and secretion, dissecting the specific roles of glucocorticoids and inflammatory mediators, in the context of HIV. Funding: GSK/Newton/SAMRC. Julia Goedecke Andre P. Kenge
Amy Mendham
Essential fatty acid status of pre-school children and women with distinct eating patterns in South Africa Investigating the essential fatty acid status of (i) pre-school children in relation to lipid profile, anthropometry and dietary intake, and (ii) women in relation to lipid profile, waist:height ratio, obesity and dietary intake in four geographical areas (2 urban, 2 rural) with distinct eating patterns in South Africa. Paul van Jaarsveld Lize van Stuijvenberg
Mieke Faber
An epidemiological study on the anthropometric status and liver intake (an exceptionally rich source of preformed vitamin A) in under-5 children in the Northern Cape province. The aim is  (i) to  identify pockets where the prevalence of stunting is high, and (ii)  to establish how widespread liver consumption (and hence vitamin A intake from liver) in the young children of this province is. Lize van Stuijvenberg  
Total body vitamin A pool size in preschool children before and after vitamin A supplementation in an impoverished South African community where liver is frequently eaten and children exposed to vitamin A fortified staple foods. This study is part of a multi-country regional study, coordinated by the IAEA, which aims to assess total body vitamin A (as measured by stable isotope dilution), as well as risk of toxicity, in populations exposed to multiple vitamin A interventions. Lize van Stuijvenberg  
Cardiovascular Risk in Black South Africans (CRIBSA) Study This study, which previously examined the prevalence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors in the black population of Cape Town, now aims to determine the biochemical and genetic markers, genes and level of renal impairment associated with these CVD risk factors. Nasheeta Peer Andre P. Kenge
Comorbidities of childhood obesity at tertiary hospitals in Kwazulu-Natal, South-Africa: 1995 TO 2016 1) To determine the number of obese children <12 years old who were assessed between January 1995 and December 2016 at King Edward Hospital and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, and describe their obesity-related comorbidities, and 2) To determine any changes in body mass index and comorbidities at 1, 2 and 5 years post-initial presentation. Nasheeta Peer Andre P. Kenge


Projects on which NCDRU is collaborating (as co-investigator)
Project title Project description Co-Investigator
The Helti SA-Can Project Aims: 1) Evaluate the efficacy of a package of “nurturing care” interventions delivered across pre-conception through infancy on the health and development of children; 2) To Conduct process and economic evaluations of the intervention; 3) Create a unique data and bio-repository resource to explore mechanisms, develop predictive algorithms, and identify novel intervention targets Andre P. Kengne
Randomized controlled trial comparing the impact of complementary food products on child growth This study investigates the effects of small-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements on linear growth, psychomotor development, anaemia, essential fatty acids, iron status and morbidities in infants from 6 to 12 months of age. Mieke Faber
Sustainable diets in Vaalharts:
linking nutrition, consumption patterns and land use
This study aims to explore the sustainability of diets of households in Valspan in the Vaalharts region by linking nutrition, consumption patterns and land use (in terms of land requirements). Mieke Faber
SPAR rural hub model nutrition study baseline survey Baseline study for a project that assesses the effect of improved supply of locally grown vegetables into local stores in combination with a nutrition behaviour change communication campaign on consumption of fresh produce by women in Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. Mieke Faber
The development, implementation and evaluation of the impact of a lifestyle intervention for overweight/obese primary school educators at selected schools within the Western Cape Province, South Africa. This study aims to develop, implement and evaluate the impact of a lifestyle intervention aimed at reducing total energy intake and improving food choices and levels of physical activity in overweight/obese primary school educators in the Western Cape Province. Mieke Faber
The effects of an aspalathin-enriched unfermented rooibos extract on cardio-metabolic risk factors in obese black South African women. The primary aim of the study is to identify indigenous plants endemic to the Northern KwaZulu Natal area, and produce standardized bioactive extracts or fractions with health properties that have been shown to be effective at preventing or ameliorating metabolic conditions related to IR and T2D. The secondary aim is to compare the efficacy of the most effective extract(s) produced to an aspalathin-enriched rooibos extract, which will be the benchmark in terms of bioactivity. A tertiary aim will be to understand the mechanism of action of the effective extract and ensure its effectiveness and safety using cell and animal models and finally to test the efficacy of the selected extract in an obese black African women. Funding: SAMRC Julia Goedecke
The effect of diet on beta cell functional mass in the aging Vervet monkey pancreas. Elucidate the mechanisms underlying the role of a long-term, high-fat diet on age-associated deterioration of pancreatic beta cell functional mass in Vervet monkeys that models inter alia cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Paul van Jaarsveld
Rape Impact Cohort Evaluation (RICE) Study This study aims to examine the development of CVD risk factors in a cohort of rape survivors and to compare this with a rape-unexposed cohort. Nasheeta Peer
Andre P. Kenge
Kim Nguyen
Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (PURE) Study This international study includes sites in the Cape and aims to assess the relative contributions of societal influences on individual lifestyle choices of diet and activity, and on risk factor levels, obesity, diabetes and CVD. The societal factors are measured by four domains of interest i.e. built environment, nutrition policy, psychosocial/socioeconomic factors and tobacco use. Nasheeta Peer
The Street Food Project The aim of this study was to develop a sustainable SFVM (street food vending model) for selling healthy and safe street foods in the City of Cape Town, enabling street food vendors to make a decent living (income), and consumers to make healthy choices regarding food purchasing. Jillian Hill
The South African Cape study on induction Therapy with Mycophenolic Acid or cyclophosphamide in patients with lupus nephritis (CAPTAIN Trial): A sub-study of the ALUGEN registry: The CAPTAIN Trial is designed as a multi-centre, open-label, prospective, randomized non-inferiority and parallel group study to assess the efficacy and safety of MMF versus IVCYC as induction agent for treating patients with biopsy proven LN in 3 large cape (Eastern and Western) hospitals. The primary outcome of the CAPTAIN trial is complete remission (CR) at 12 months.

Number of Centres: 3 across Eastern and Western Cape

Andre P. Kengne
The SADaCC/SPARCO consortium
SADaCC aims to build a robust platform to support the activities of a companion Pan African Sickle Cell Disease Consortium (SPARCo), which brings together leading SCD researchers and clinicians from high-, middle- and low-income countries. The four main activities of the centre include administrative planning and coordination across various sites in Africa, research design and training of field investigators, monitoring and implementation of the research and data management, and analysis and publication of research results.

Countries involved: South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria and Ghana

Andre P. Kengne