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Associate Professor Karen Shires, is a joint staff Senior Medical Scientist and Senior Lecturer at UCT medical school and NHLS Cape Town. After obtaining various scientific degrees in the pathology disciplines of Microbiology, Biochemistry and Chemical Pathology, Dr Shires joined the NHLS, Division of Haematology in 2006. 

She is in charge of the research and development of the molecular section, which has allowed her to develop novel diagnostic and prognostic approaches in her research lab, and translate these directly to the molecular NHLS service at Groote Schuur Hospital. Quality and reliable testing platforms that make use of efficient workflow systems guide her guidelines in supplying clinically relevant molecular testing solutions for the local Haematopathology discipline. Her research focus is on the development of novel molecular tools to diagnose and monitor minimal residual disease in Multiple Myeloma and myeloid malignancies. She is a passionate teacher and leads the molecular haematology teaching and training for registrar with an online lecture series, molecular tutorials and practical workshops.  She also provides ongoing training and teaching, private clinicians, technologists and other interested scientists. Dr Karen Shires continues to serve as a national examiner for both the Haematology and Molecular Biology national intern medical scientists training programs for the HPCSA, is also a member of the HPCSA medical scientist task team (UCT/GSH-NHLS representative) and is also an external examiner for national Hons, MMed, MSc and PhD theses.

Cancer/Testis antigen expression in Multiple Myeloma
Cancer/Testis antigens (CTAs) are a group of highly immunogenic proteins that show testis-restricted expression in normal tissue, but high expression in many different cancer types. In recent years CTA expression in Multiple Myeloma (MM) has been explored, with the discovery that some of these antigens are commonly expressed. Their expression has been linked with advanced disease and poor overall survival. Although they are being actively investigated for immunotherapy uses, little is known about their role in MM pathogenesis. In an attempt to understand both their role in disease and as a potential prognostic and monitoring tool, the research group of Dr Shires is actively investigating the expression of a panel of CTAs in MM patients at diagnosis and during therapy. They have already reported a cascade like expression pattern linked to worsening disease features and showed that MAGEC1 expression is expressed in a stem cell component of the disease which may represent the progenitor malignant cell. Current studies involve how various chemotherapy treatments affect this progenitor cell and how monitoring of transplant patients using CTA expression can improve overall survival by predicting relapses at an early time frames.


Diagnosis, prognosis and monitoring of Myeloid malignancies

Providing first world diagnostic tests in state hospital facilities is an important goal of the NHLS, however costs in our local setting are a significant limiting factor.  The Molecular Haematology unit run by Dr Shires aims to provide the best possible molecular service to help diagnose, prognosticate and monitor disease in patients with myeloid malignancies, despite these constraints. This includes developing novel strategies to test for multiple mutations on single platforms, establishing the relevance of particular mutations in local populations and identifying novel disease causing mutations in our local population groups.
The prevalence of JAK/CALR/MPL mutations in our local populations are being researched as it appears that the rate of these mutations in our MPN patient population is not the same as reported in Europe and the US. This leads the way to study alternative disease mechanisms in our African population. We are also currently developing novel assays to detect multiple prognostic indicators for patients with AML, in line with the WHO recommendations.

  • Students and research projects 2020 - Dr Karen Shires

    Ms Adri Rust: MSc – The use of MAGEC1 expression in the monitoring and treatment of autologous stem cell transplant patients with Multiple Myeloma.

    Dr Ruth Gopie: MMed – Diagnostic molecular markers in South African myeloproliferative neoplasms.

    Ms Marian Stone: MSc – Defining the functional role of Mage C1 in Multiple Myeloma.

    Nicholas Jenkins: MMed - Cytogenetically normal AML at GSH.


Dr. Mowla holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and joined the Haematology Molecular Research Unit in 2009. She is a cancer biologist and her primary research focus is in the field of HIV related lymphoma. Lymphomas are an important complication of HIV infection, with Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma and Burkitt lymphoma being the most common types of HIV/AIDS-defining lymphomas. The incidence of these cancers in HIV-infected individuals remains high even under combined antiretroviral therapy that reconstitutes the immune function. Dr Mowla’s research uses a broad range of molecular and cellular biology techniques to study transcription factor function, signal transduction pathways and gene expression and regulation in these lymphomas. She works closely with pathologists and clinicians with the aim to improve diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of patients suffering from these aggressive cancers.

Dr. Mowla previously held the prestigious Medical Research Council (MRC) Career Development Award, and is currently the recipient of several research grants. She has established collaborations with both local and international partners. In the last 10 years, she has trained and mentored over 15 BSc Medical Honours, Masters and PhD students. She is also involved in teaching and convening of various undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and in 2015 she obtained a Diploma in Health Professional Education. She regularly serves as a reviewer for international journals, as well as examiner of national Hons., M.Sc. and Ph.D. theses. Furthermore, Dr. Mowla is sensitive to issues of diversity and transformation, and co-chairs the Departmental Transformation and Equity committee. She also sits on various Departmental, Faculty and University Committees.


  • Students and research projects 2020 - Dr Shaheen Mowla

    Beatrice Ramorola: PhD - Molecular Characterisation of Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma in South Africa.

    Leonardo Alves De Souza Rios: PhD - Understanding the molecular pathogenesis of HIV-associated Burkitt’s lymphoma – the impact of HIV protein Tat on lymphoma driver genes. 

    Lungile Mapekula: PhD - The cooperation of EBV and HIV infection in the development of Burkitt Lymphoma.

    Zahra Latib: PhD – Defining the Genetic and molecular landscape of Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma in South Africa

    Aaliyah Saferdien: PhD - Investigating the anti-cancer properties of extracts from the medicinal plant, Dodonaea viscosa, used by Western Cape Traditional Healers.

    Riyaadh Ahmed: MSc - Investigating the contribution of HIV-1 protein Nef in HIV-associated lymphoma.