It would be fair to assume that Matroosfontein’s Shireen Mentor is one of the brightest young scientific minds in the world. This was confirmed when the award winning, cum laude PhD student was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship , one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world.
The Fulbright Scholarship is run by the US State Department and the most gifted students are selected by a panel of 300 of the best academics and professors. The 29 year old Shireen will be flying to the US in September where she will be studying at the University of Missouri over the next nine months.
Shireen also recently returned from the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany, a prestigious gathering of scientists from around the world. She was one of six South African scientists who was nominated by the Academy of Science of South Africa to attend the gathering. The academy only nominates the leading young scientists in the disciplines of physics, chemistry, and medicine. She was one of only 600 gifted scientists from around the world to have had the honour of attending. The event also included internationally recognized Nobel prize-winning scientists. However, her list of achievements does not stop there.
In 2010, Shireen completed her degree in Medical Biosciences from the University of the Western Cape, and a year later, she graduated with an honours degree, cum laude. In 2014, she yet again graduated cum laude with a Masters degree in Neurobiology and in the same year, she received the coveted national Wyndham Prize from the Physiology Society of Southern Africa.
Shireen is currently completing her PhD in Neurobiology and her research involves using high-resolution Scanning Electron Microscopy to study the nano-morphology of the developing blood-brain barrier. In simple terms, she uses powerfull telescopes that shoot out electric beams to look at cells that are a few million times smaller than a speck of dust. These cells are spread across the brain and they prevent toxins from entering the brain. In order for Shireen to understand the impact of toxins on the brain, she has to understand how these cells interact with various substances.
Her academic work has been published in international peer reviewed journals such as ‘Current Neurovascular Research’, ‘Neural Regeneration Research’ and the ‘South African Journal of Botany’. The papers published include ‘Aggressive Antioxidant Reductive Stress Impairs Brain Endothelial Cell Angiogenesis and Blood Brain Barrier Function’, ‘Antioxidant-induced reductive stress has untoward consequences on the brain microvasculature’, and ‘The blood-brain barrier is adversely affected by excess Aspalathus linearis derived anti-oxidants’.
In addition to all of this, Shireen was also a dance instructor at HK Dance School in Kuils River. She currently works as a lecturer at the University of the Western Cape’s Medical Biosciences Department. She says that due the high levels of drug abuse in her community, she originally began looking at the science behind drug abuse and its impact on the brain. She hopes to somebody find a solution to this problem.