Veterinarian Dr Hai Xu graduated with a PhD in Microbiology from the School of Life Sciences.
He completed his undergraduate studies in his home country of China as well as postgraduate studies on a universal vaccine for avian influenza. He went on to work at the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS), focusing on the development of new vaccines.
During his time at the JAAS, Xu became aware of the programmes offered by UKZN and applied for PhD studies. His research investigated a novel method to enhance vaccine delivery and immunogenicity using T7 phage. The novel nanobodies targeting dendritic cells from chickens showed specificity and application as vaccine targeting ligands. Two nanobodies were selected for production of novel DNA vaccines encapsulated in phage to dendritic cells.
Xu’s findings on vaccine development are of significance to the poultry industry and will impact public health especially during disease outbreaks. Whilst developing the avian influenza DNA vaccine, he established a T7 phage-mediated DNA vaccine delivery platform which has broad applications.
Xu has returned to his job at the JAAS and is continuing his research on the DNA-targeted vaccine. He hopes to increase collaboration between China and UKZN that will enable him to interact with the School of Life Sciences and its expert researchers.
He described his doctoral studies as difficult but he overcame the challenges and completed on time. ‘I am extremely glad to have published papers and graduated on time and grateful to all those who helped me,’ said Xu. He published 17 articles and was granted five patents over the years.
Xu acknowledged his supervisor, Professor Hafizah Chenia for assisting him with his research and Dean and Head of the School of Life Sciences Professor Ade Olaniran for his assistance in both in his research and communal life in South Africa.
Chenia said: ‘Hai was the epitome of the perfect postgraduate student: self-motivated, disciplined and diligent. He worked through the COVID-19 pandemic to graduate on time, with three papers published in internationally reputable journals with high impact factors and H-indices.’
Words: Leena Rajpal
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal