Loretta Magagula (LM) gets featured in the Vintage series on the Association of Allan Gray Fellows (AG) website.

Ever wished you could genetically engineer stem cells? This week’s Vintage can do exactly that. She’s studied at Wits (BSc Biochemistry, Cell Biology & Physiology), UP (BSc (Hons) Biotechnology) and is currently completing her PhD in Medical Biochemistry at UCT after completing her MSc Clinical Science and Immunology also at UCT. Let’s get to know Loretta from the class of 2010.

AG: What do you do besides living and why do you do it?

LM: I’m the co-founder and CTO of a medical diagnostics start-up, Incitech, with other Allan Gray fellows which focusses making simple diagnostic solutions accessible to South African.

AG: Why?

Creating simple diagnostic solutions for the layman

Loretta MagagulaIncitech CTO

LM: I have spent over a decade of my life in the industrial and academic scientific research. And while the intention of these disciplines is to expand knowledge and apply that knowledge to improve the health of mankind and cure diseases, I witnessed first-hand how that knowledge can get lost in bureaucracy and/or remain on the lab bench because the cost of getting that knowledge to the patient are too high. Ultimately, many scientific innovations, particularly in this part of the world, do not translate to the layman. This was a very disheartening realisation for me to say the least. So, my undertaking and commitment to Incitech ultimately stems from what is reflected in Incitech’s vision; creating simple diagnostic solutions for the layman to access knowledge about their own health.

AG: One of your publications is titled Microbial manipulation of host dark matter. This is quite a gripping title…the host dark matter part. For a non-science Fellow, how would you explain what this publication is about?

LM: Explaining this to a non-scientist in a short snippet will be rather difficult, so I will borrow an elegant explanation from one of my previous colleagues, Dr. Samantha Barichievy, published in our earlier joint publication on the same subject matter:

“The English term ‘orchestrate’ is a verb that means ‘to arrange or direct the elements of a situation to produce a desired effect, especially surreptitiously’. Savant Loretta Magagula Incitech CTOThe last part of the definition is intriguing, as it suggests the act of orchestration is clandestine or covert, perhaps even ‘hidden’. It follows then that while the conductor of an orchestra follows a score to guide all of the elements comprising a musical performance to a unified act, the piece is covertly directed according to the personal wishes of the conductor. In truth, conductors make adjustments all of which may not seem obvious to the orchestra members themselves. The ability to furtively direct the elements of a situation to produce a desired effect is also a hallmark of successful pathogenic infection……it is unsurprising that pathogens can, and do, manipulate elementary cellular and genomic functioning to their own advantage. It seems then that much like the conductor of an orchestra, pathogens use genomic tools akin to a conductor’s baton, to chisel the intracellular environment to their liking.”[1]

The lives of most Fellows are a juggling act between corporate and entrepreneurship. Yours, however, is between academia and entrepreneurship. Dr Kopano Matlwa once said, “Medicine is my wife and writing my mistress, I love them both.” For you, which is your wife and mistress?

Wife: Definitely pure and applied science

Mistress: I tend to change mistresses, however, my current mistress is programming, specifically bioinformatic data analysis.

AG: How has your view on who you are and what success feels like changed, if at all since you turned 30?

I have been eager and ready step into this new chapter

Loretta MagagulaIncitech CTO

LM: Turning 30 could not have come sooner, I have been eager and ready step into this new chapter of my life. It’s been a year of reflecting on the past decade of my life and looking ahead to the next, both introspectively and externally. However, my views on who I am or what success feels like have not changed significantly. More than anything I have learnt to value the journey and the lessons behind all “successes” I have accomplished thus far. And my perspective on who I am and who I intend to be as become much clearer and more defined. I am still very much a free spirit and that’s an attribute I plan on holding onto because it has allowed me to experience different aspects of life, places, people and cultures and learn so much.

AG: What do you want to be when you grow up?

LM: Only two things:

  • Fulfilled
    • Definition: satisfied or happy because of fully developing one’s abilities or character.
  • Fulfilling;
    • Definition: making someone satisfied or happy by allowing their character or abilities to develop fully.

[1] Samantha Barichievy, Loretta Magagula, Youtaro Shibayama, and Musa M. Mhlanga. (2016) Microbial manipulation of host dark matter. In: Noncoding-RNAs and Interkingdom communication. Springer International Publishing Switzerland; 2016.

This is an adaptation of an article entitled, “Encounters with vintage: The success of the associatio0n lies in how it advances community” on the Association of Allan Gray Fellows website.

Savant venture image Incitech