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Professor Susan Kidson PhD

Stem Cell Research Initiative 

Susan Kidson

Professor in Division of Cell Biology, Department of Human Biology; Member, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine; Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT


A. Animal Models for eye defects, cataracts and glaucoma.

Glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness in South Africa, is characterised by irreversible retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death and optic nerve damage. Early identification and treatment would improve the quality of life for many individuals. An individual's susceptibility to glaucoma is modified by many factors, highlighting the multi-causal nature of this condition. The cellular and molecular basis of most forms of glaucoma and the nature of susceptibility factors is poorly understood and few causative genes have been identified. There is thus an urgent need for animal models to help investigate the aetiology of the different forms of glaucoma and to identify causal and modifier genes. The anatomical and functional similarities between mouse and human eyes have encouraged researchers to search for suitable mouse models for glaucoma. Our aim is to understand the genetic basis of glaucoma and to explain the abnormalities seen in the eye when glaucoma occurs. Our approach is to make use of normal and mutant mice and to focus on the development and abnormalities in the cornea, trabecular network, ciliary body, iris and retina. In addition, we have been studying the African mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is a subterranean rodent whose eyes are thought to be visually non-functional and is an ideal animal with which to pursue questions in evolutionary developmental biology.

1. Morphology and development of Schlemm's canal in murine eyes. Three-dimensional reconstruction of the aqueous drainage vessels in the irido-corneal angle of the mouse eye.

2. Functional analysis of downstream targets of Foxc1 by microarray analysis.


B. Melanocytes in disease

1. Melanocyte differentiation and oncogenesis:
When melanocytes transform into metastatic melanomas, they go through an intermediate phase of immortalisation. In order to study how melanocytes proliferate, migrate and differentiate during this transformation process, two lines of investigation have been followed. Firstly, to study the molecular and cellular events that initiate melanocyte transformation into melanoma. We have developed methods to track the process of metastasis in humans. A RT-PCR based method has been developed, thoroughly tested for accuracy and reliability, and applied to a cohort of patients being treated in melanoma clinics. This line of investigation has now been expanded into studies on human breast cancer and we are now converting the assays for use with real time quantitative PCR.

2. Vitiligo is a depigmenting skin disorder affecting 1% to 5 % of the general population. Affected individuals display a gradual loss of pigmentation in patches of the skin, most commonly on the hands and face, causing cosmetic disfigurement and often resulting in severe psychological and social distress, particularly in children. Current treatments are not very efficacious or permanent and there are severe phototoxic side effects. Despite extensive investigations, the fate of melanocytes in vitiliginous skin remains unresolved. Furthermore, it is not known how the skin re-pigments when treated with standard photochemotherapy agents. The answer to this question of melanocyte fate is central to the improvement of the treatments for vitiligo. We are carrying out cellular and molecular studies on melanocyte and keratinocyte interactions in vitiligo. In addition, we are currently following up work in which embryonic stem cells have been induced to differentiate into melanocytes. This work opens up the possibilities of using stem cells to treat human pigment cells disorders in the skin and in the eye (such as in retinitis pigmentosa).


Selected publications:

Van der Merwe EL, Kidson SH. Wholemount imaging reveals abnormalities of the aqueous outflow pathway and corneal vascularity in Foxc1 and Bmp4 heterozygous mice. Experimental Eye Research (2016) 146:293-303.

Watson LM, Smit, DC, Scholefiel, J, Ball, R, Kidson S, Greenber LJ, Woo MJA. Spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 in South Africa: epidemiology, pathogenesis and therapy. South African Medical Journal (2016) 106(6):S107-S109.

Kidson SH, Ballo R, Greenberg LJ. The rise of developmental genetics – a historical account of the fusion of embryology and cell biology with human genetics and the emergence of the stem cell initiative. South African Medical Journal (2016) 106(6):S57-S58.

Greenberg J, Smith DC, Burman RJ, Ballo R, Kidson SH. Towards guidelines for informed consent for prospective stem cell research. S Afr J BL (2015) 8(2 suppl 1):46-48.


Contact details:

Department of Human Biology
Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine
Faculty of Health Sciences
University of Cape Town
Observatory 7925
South Africa

Tel:  +27 21 406 6461
Fax: +27 21 448 7226


Alternate sites:


Group members:

To be updated



Prof Gail Todd Division of Dermatology, UCT
Dr G Gottschalk Dermatologists, Red Cross Children's Hospital
Dr G Hanekom Division of Immunology, UCT
Prof N Illing Dept of Cellular and Molecular Biology, UCT
Dr J O'Ryan Dept of Zoology, UCT
Dr S Prince Dept of Human Biology, UCT
Dr W Hide Bioinformatics Unit, UWC
Dr Brigid Hogan Vanderbilt University and Howard Hughes Fellow: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Dr Simon John Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbour, USA