Professor Birkholtz completed her PhD on biochemical aspects of malaria jointly in South Africa, the USA and Germany. She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Pretoria. Prof Birkholtz serves on the board for the South African Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the editorial panel for the Biochemical Journal (Disease Environment).
Prof Birkholtz’s research interest is focused on the physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology of malaria parasites. Biochemical distinctions between the malaria parasite and the human host, which are exploitable for the design of novel antimalarial chemotherapeuticals and transmission blocking drugs, are investigated:
• Biochemical characterisation of novel drug compounds targeting the cell cycle development of malaria parasites in their pathogenic, asexual forms.
• Identification of novel drugs and drug targets that interfere with asexual and sexual development of malaria parasites.
• Understanding the biochemical processes involved in sexual differentiation of gametocyte forms of the parasite from pathogenic, asexual parasites.
Determining the effects of transmission blocking strategies on field-isolated parasite populations and correlating this with human health effects.
Prof Birkholtz, as SARChI Chair in Sustainable Malaria Control, harnesses expertise in malaria control in South Africa to enable sustained malaria control particularly in the African context. The research program undertaken by Prof Birkholtz’s team is internationally competitive and trend setting and will contribute to the global Malaria Eradication Agenda. Additionally, the work is nationally pioneering and influential in the commitment of South Africa to attempt to eliminate malaria from its borders by 2018. The research area of Prof Birkholtz contributes uniquely to the interplay between malaria control and elimination by focusing on both the pathogenic and transmission forms of the parasite to ensure sustainability in malaria control and elimination. Due to the innovative nature of the work, students in the program are trained in scarce skills related to malaria parasite biology in Africa.
Her research has been presented at more than 50 local and international conferences with numerous cited publications and two co-authored specialised books. Prof Birkholtz has received various international scientific and teaching awards including German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and Andrew W Mellon Foundation fellowships as well as Trends in Parasitology and International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) Best Research Presentation awards. The University of Pretoria recognised her as an Exceptional Young Researcher in 2010 and 2013.