Dr Kathryn Wicht

Research Officer | Chemical Biology

Dr Kathryn Wicht received her PhD in Chemistry from the University of Cape Town in 2015.

Her research focused on high-throughput screening (HTS) for novel antimalarial compounds targeting the hemozoin formation pathway and medicinal chemistry exploration of the hit compounds. Computational modeling of the data, pooled with publicly available HTS results, allowed for the development of Bayesian models to predict antiplasmodium activity and describe the common features of hemozoin inhibiting compounds.

Synthesis and biological testing of the derivatives provided tool compounds for further understanding of the mechanism in which hemozoin inhibitors accumulate and result in the increase of free heme in the parasite's digestive vacuole.

In 2015, Kathryn commenced a postdoctoral research fellowship at the H3D Drug Discovery and Development Centre in Cape Town, which gave her further invaluable experience in the field of medicinal and synthetic chemistry, working to develop a late lead series for an MMV-funded project.

From 2017 to 2020, Kathryn carried out postdoctoral research in the Fidock Laboratory, at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Here, she was involved in multiple projects focusing on different aspects of antimalarial drug discovery, drug resistance and genomics. This included conducting accumulation studies with radiolabeled antimalarials in resistant field isolates; carrying out resistance selection experiments with novel compounds for elucidating mechanisms of action and resistance; computational modeling of mutations in the cryo-EM solved structure of the Plasmodium falciparum chloroquine resistance transporter (PfCRT); and genetically editing African malaria parasites with drug-resistance conferring PfCRT mutations, which are present in Southeast Asia. This work showed the ability of important antimalarials to become less effective in Africa if these mutations were to arise there.

In March 2020, Kathryn rejoined UCT and H3D as a Research Officer. She aspires to support malaria research activities at UCT/H3D by utilizing her diverse skill set and experience related to antimalarial drug development and mechanism of action studies, supervising postgraduate students within the Department of Chemistry and facilitating Plasmodium genomics research in South Africa.