Raj Ramesar is Professor and Head of the Division of Human Genetics at the University of Cape Town and its Allied Hospitals in South Africa. This facility has wide-ranging clinical responsibilities from the quaternary and tertiary care levels, to extensive rural outreach programmes, in addition to diagnostic and research capabilities. His interest is in using the exciting developments in the field of genomic sciences to investigate human biodiversity. Africa offers the opportunity to use population lineages in all of their richness towards identifying aspects of human biology, that have to do with both health and disease.
As the Director of the MRC Human Genetics Research Unit, the emphasis of his research has been on disease susceptibility in South African populations, progressing from the commonly recognised inherited diseases, to those that are more complex yet more common and relevant to a large burden of disease. In this regard, he has been involved in researching Retinal Degenerative diseases for the past 25 years – and has been working very closely with the lay support group: Retina South Africa, in terms of developing and maintaining an active and translational research agenda. Furthermore, his most recent research enterprise is embodied in a large scale project entitled: ‘Human Diversity and Health’. 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 optimum benefit of patients and their kin. In this regard, Raj recently received the (Vice Chancellor’s) Alan Pifer Award for ‘outstanding research in cancer genetics which shows relevance to the advancement of South Africa’s disadvantaged populations’. His most recent research involves whole exomic and whole genome sequencing for disorders seen in South Africa, as well as investigating responses to drugs in Southern African populations. Apart from being on the editorial board of several international journals, Raj serves as co–chair of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board of Retina South Africa, he is on the Executive of the African Society for Human Genetics, and is the latter organisation’s Liaison Officer to the International Federation of Human Genetics Societies. As Chair of the Local Organising Committee, he recently organised the Joint Conference of the African and Southern African Societies in Cape Town (www.humangenetics2011.org). Raj also led a successful bid to host the International Congress of Human Genetics in Cape Town in 2021. He serves on several international advisory panels pertaining to genomic research, including that for: Human Heredity and Health: Africa (or H3Africa).