The past, present and future of 

Neuroscience in southern Africa

Dr Vivienne Russell 

University of Cape Town, University of KwaZulu-natal



The History of Neuroscience in southern Africa

William Daniels


Scientists in several African countries have applied the principles of scientific enquiry to the practice of African traditional and herbal medicine with the aim of investigating their potential benefit in the treatment of brain disorders. African researchers are in a unique position of having access to ecosystems of high biodiversity in combination with knowledge of traditional medicine, the scientific testing of which promises to lead to the discovery of new bioactive compounds. In this regard, invertebrate model organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster have been introduced to African neuroscientists as powerful-yet-low-cost alternatives to mammalian models for testing natural products.

In 1991, IBRO undertook the formidable task of assisting economically impoverished countries to pursue research in basic and clinical neuroscience in Africa. IBRO sponsored several neuroscience schools and training workshops in Africa which has contributed to improved knowledge and understanding of brain function as well as fostering collaborations across the world. Several countries offer funding opportunities specially geared to promote collaboration with African neuroscientists. The Fogarty International Centre at NIH has supported brain research in developing countries for the past 10 years which lead to development of research capacity and infrastructure in several countries in Africa.


Russel's review is of necessity very brief and barely touches on important highlights from the author’s perspective and does not pretend to provide a comprehensive overview, merely a summary of information gained from colleagues in Africa and a literature search.

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