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Partnerships for Children with Heart Disease in Africa (PROTEA) Research Group

Despite being the most common birth defect in the world, knowledge about congenital heart disease (CHD) in Africa is scarce. The PROTEA study was established by Prof. Liesl Zühlke (University of Cape Town) and Prof. Bernard Keavney (University of Manchester) to address the lack of basic information about CHD in Africa. Through PROTEA, a multicentre CHD registry has been established, allowing description of the aetiology, life course and clinical management of CHD in African patients. PROTEA also houses a registry and biorepository for CHD and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) to allow for genomic, proteomic and bioinformatics analysis of structural heart disease. In addition, the novel syndrome MIS-C (Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children) associated with SARS-CoV-2 is being investigated in our group, led by Dr Kate Webb.

PROTEA aims to build capacity for paediatric cardiovascular research in Africa through the establishment of a sustainable CHD research infrastructure at UCT to serve as a platform and model that can be applied in other South African centres and collaborating African countries. The data and resources developed in this study will help African researchers define the most important and feasible research topics for future study in the populations they serve. The PROTEA group is affiliated with the Children’s Heart Disease Research Unit, where research projects are conducted in the areas of CHD, RHD, and heart failure and collaborates with the AFROStrep Research Initiative, led by Assoc. Prof. Mark Engel, which focuses on Streptococcus pyogenes, the causative agent of RHD.

Group Members

  • Prof. Liesl Zühlke | Group Lead
  • Dr Thomas Aldersley, Research Medical Officer (UCT)
  • Dr George Comitis, Co-Investigator (UCT)
  • Dr Blanche Cupido, Co-Investigator (UCT)
  • Assoc. Prof. Rik De Decker, Co-Investigator (UCT)
  • Assoc. Prof. Mark Engel, AFROStrep Project Lead (UCT)
  • Dr Barend Fourie, Co-Investigator (SU)
  • Prof. Bernard Keavney | Investigator (UoM)
  • Assoc. Prof. John Lawrenson, Co-Investigator (UCT)
  • Dr Timothy Spracklen, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (UCT)
  • Dr Lenise Swanson, Co-Investigator (UCT)
  • Dr Kate Webb, SARS-CoV-2 MIS-C Project Lead (UCT)

Research Projects

Investigating the genetics of congenital heart disease in Africa

The role of genetic factors in congenital heart disease (CHD) is well documented in international cohorts, but the genetics of CHD in Africa is largely unknown. In this study, the genetics of CHD is explored using high-throughput genomic techniques such as exome sequencing and chromosomal microarray analysis. Identifying disease-causing mutations can have implications on patient management, risk stratification and family planning, especially in the growing population of adult CHD patients.

SARS-CoV-2 antibody phenotype and immune gene expression in MIS-C

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) is a severe disease that affects a small proportion of children exposed to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Differences in SARS-CoV-2 antibody responses and immune gene expression between children who develop MIS-C and children exposed to SARS-CoV-2 who do not may provide insight into the mechanism of MIS-C. We are also involved in a large case series from two tertiary centres in South Africa to compare the clinical phenotype of MIS-C with mimicking systemic inflammatory disorders.

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