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The Institute

The Cape Heart Institute (CHI) is a multidisciplinary and interprofessional centre of excellence that concentrates on research activities and expertise relating to cardiovascular risk factors and diseases common to sub-Saharan Africa. Its focus is to consolidate and expand major existing efforts to combat the most serious cardiovascular threats to health and to improve overall prosperity within the region.

The key goals of CHI are:

  • To address the critical shortage of researchers required to engage in basic, translational and clinical aspects of cardiovascular and chronic diseases in order to address South Africa and Africa’s most pressing health problems related to cardiovascular disease.
  • To encourage and nurture young researchers, particularly those from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, and to create productive groupings.
  • To create a vibrant and stimulating environment, in keeping with UCT’s goal of decolonisation.
  • To tackle the critical limitations placed on the intellectual atmosphere in which research is conducted and to enhance the physical environment for performing modern scientific work.
  • To improve the unsuitability and inadequacy of key infrastructural facilities for biomedical research, such as animal and biohazard facilities, to conform to international safety standards.
  • To increase the number of senior researchers and postdoctoral fellows who could devote a significant amount of time to research in this field.
  • To encourage interaction with researchers from other disciplines within the University of Cape Town, as well as with other institutions, in keeping with the University of Cape Town’s strategic goal for the creation of an Afropolitan facility.
  • To facilitate the exchange between clinical and laboratory-based science with the goal of translating innovations and scientific insight into clinical solutions for Africa. 

The Institute’s strategic intent is the focused application of its extensive array of scientific and research skills and capacities, within a multi-disciplinary environment, extending from the most basic enabling technologies to clinical studies and public health approach. This includes leadership in global studies.

Through its bridge position between laboratory-based research and clinical research, the CHI sees itself as an institution fostering translation. The CHI creates a modern, consolidated and vibrant environment between a number of shared laboratories, facilities and expertise, in which scientific excellence is pursued within a number of laboratory groups. Each group is headed by a scientist of international stature and is facilitated by efficient and effective infrastructure and centralized facilities, with minimum bureaucracy, thereby enabling local research capacity to prosper in Africa.

The Institute is led by Professor Karen Sliwa-Hahnle (Director) and Professor Sandrine Lecour (Deputy Director). The CHI currently encompasses eight research groups from a broad range of backgrounds such as medicine, cardiology, pharmacology, genetics, physiology, paediatric cardiology, anaesthesia, and global health.


CHI has a long history going back to 1967 when, in recognition of the first human heart transplant performed in 1967, a seven-storey building was donated to the University of Cape Town by the South African Mining Industry to house heart research. The South African Mining Industry Organ Transplantation (SAMIOT) Building opened in 1973 and was renamed the Chris Barnard Building in 2001, after the death of Professor Barnard.

Early during the planning phase of this new facility, Professor Christiaan Barnard recognised the importance of heart research as a joint endeavour between Cardiovascular Surgery and Cardiology Research and invited Professor Lionel Opie as a partner into the building.

Funding was later guaranteed through the Medical Research Council of South Africa Unit named as Ischaemic Heart Disease Unit. In the second half of the 1990s, Prof Opie and Prof Yellon obtained funding partnerships that allowed the ‘Ischaemic Heart Disease Group’ to be renamed the Hatter Institute.

When Professor Karen Sliwa was appointed as the new head of the Hatter Institute in 2010, she significantly expanded the scope of research from basic science to clinical and African population studies. She invited other related medical research groups (e.g. Lipid Research, Cardiac Imaging & Inflammation, General Medicine & Global Health, Paediatric Cardiology) into the Institute and the expansion of the Institute Groups to Global Health research led to the renaming of the Institute as the “Cape Heart Institute” Global Health in 2021. The CHI is housed in the Chris Barnard Building on the Health Science Campus.