School of Life Sciences

Ms Huda Ismail receives the Whitehead Biochemistry Honours Award from Professor Hafizah Chenia.

Summa Cum Laude Honours Degree for Biochemistry Top Achiever

The Whitehead Biochemistry Award for the best Biochemistry Honours student on the Westville Campus was presented to Ms Huda Ismail who graduated summa cum laude.

‘Following my undergraduate studies in microbiology and biochemistry, I wanted to enhance my understanding of science, particularly in the field of Biochemistry,’ said Ismail.  ‘The field of biochemistry has always fascinated me. The honours programme at UKZN offered an opportunity to engage with further advanced topics and a platform to undertake a research project allowing me to work closely with experienced mentors and develop my skills in both the laboratory and scientific writing.’

During her honours project Ismail investigated the potential antidiabetic and anti-obesity activities of selected artificial sweeteners.

‘Artificial sweeteners are being increasingly used worldwide as popular alternatives to sucrose in a variety of food and beverage products,’ said Ismail.  ‘Many individuals opt for these sweeteners as a means to decrease sugar intake which is linked to a heightened likelihood of metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.

‘Globally, type 2 diabetes (T2D) and obesity pose a significant threat to public health. These disorders are regarded as the epidemics of the 21st century. South Africa is among the five countries in Africa with the highest number of people living with diabetes.

‘Understanding and investigating alternative non-pharmacologic agents such as dietary supplements contribute to enhanced consumer knowledge and motivate further clinical studies to curb the twin epidemic,’ she said.

Ismail’s findings suggest that all studied artificial sweeteners have some level of antioxidant, anti-diabetic and anti-obesogenic effects and may be used not only as a sweetener but also as a supplement in antidiabetic and anti-obesity foods and food products. These studies were done fully at in vitro condition, however, so further studies in experimental animals and humans are necessary to ascertain the results of this study.

Ismail is currently pursuing an MSc in Biochemistry under the supervision of Professor Shahidul Islam, focusing on traditional medicinal plants for the treatment of metabolic disorders.

‘Huda is a very dedicated and goal-oriented learner who has excelled in her studies,’ said Islam. ‘I strongly believe she will continue to excel at master’s and PhD levels.’

In her spare time she enjoys reading books, watching TV series, spending time with friends and family, and attempting to learn new languages.

She thanked her family for providing support and instilling in her a thirst for knowledge; her supervisor for his encouragement, guidance and advice; her co-supervisor, staff in the biomedical research laboratory; her biochemistry lecturers and classmates.

‘For those considering postgraduate studies, I share these few words of encouragement,’ said Ismail. ‘My honours degree was both a personal challenge and an achievement. Along the way, one may encounter setbacks and feel overwhelmed by pressures. During these times, don’t let anxiety subdue you. Take breaks when needed and have patience. Remember that in the end, everything will work out. Stay focused, trust in the process and keep pushing forward. Your dedication will pay off.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Hester Cele