School of Life Sciences

Prof Theresa HT Coetzer

Professor and SARChI Chair

Professor Theresa Coetzer’s research focusses on proteolytic enzymes as diagnostic and drug targets in African parasitic diseases: mainly animal and human trypanosomiasis (nagana and sleeping sickness) and also trichinellosis and theileriosis.

She also has expertise in producing antibodies in chickens against the whole proteases and against peptides corresponding to epitopes identified in silico. Chicken egg yolk antibodies (IgY) are powerful immunochemical tools that find wide application in research and she has established a number of collaborations around this capacity.

She holds a DST-NRF South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) Chair in Proteolysis in Haemostasis, Health and Disease.

Research interests

My research interest is in proteolytic enzymes of African trypanosomes. African trypanosomiasis is a parasitic disease caused by haemoflagellate protozoa of the genus Trypanosoma that is spread by the bite of the tsetse fly. The human form of the disease, called sleeping sickness, is caused by T. brucei gambiense in eastern and central Africa and by T. brucei rhodesiense in eastern Africa. Livestock, notably cattle and goats, are susceptible to T. congolense and T. vivax that causes nagana and the disease also occurs in northern KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique. Wildlife do not show any symptoms, but act as reservoirs of the parasite, hence the large scale killing of animals in the 1920s to protect cattle in the area that now constitutes Hluluwe-iMfolozi. As a result of the ability of trypanosomes to continuously change the expression of their variable surface glycoproteins (VSGs), there is no vaccine for trypanosomaisis and resistance has developed against the prophylactic drugs in use for more than 50 years.

We study various cysteine and serine proteases of T. congolense and T. vivax with an aim to develop simple diagnostic tests, new chemotherapeutic agents and a vaccine that could be used in resource poor settings in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to cloning, recombinant expression, purification and enzymatic characterisation of the proteases, RNAi and gene knock-out studies, we produce antibodies in chickens against the whole proteases and against peptides corresponding to epitopes identified in silico. Chicken egg yolk antibodies (IgY) are powerful immunochemical tools that find wide application in research and we have established a number of collaborations around this capacity.

Research profiles