Health & Education

Prestigious Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award Bestowed Upon Stellenbosch University Immunologist

Stellenbosch University’s Prof. Clive Gray Honored for Groundbreaking Research in Maternal and Child Health.

Professor Clive Gray, an esteemed immunologist at Stellenbosch University, has been awarded the Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award on July 3, 2024. This accolade celebrates research excellence with global implications, highlighting Prof. Gray’s pioneering work in understanding placental function and its impact on mother-child health.

Impactful Research in Maternal and Child Health

Prof. Gray’s research delves into the intricacies of the human placenta and its role in maternal and child health. His findings aim to revolutionize how we manage risks associated with premature birth, low birth weight, and learning difficulties. By identifying predictive markers of adverse birth outcomes, his work offers new pathways to enhancing mother-child health.

Rebecca Oppenheimer, chair of the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (OMT), expressed excitement about Prof. Gray’s research. “Prof. Gray’s work has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the human placenta, uncovering new pathways to improving mother-child health. We have witnessed the transformative impact of previous Harry Oppenheimer Fellows across various fields, and we look forward to the advancements Prof. Gray’s research will bring.”

A Significant Recognition and Grant

The Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award, which includes a R2.5-million grant, is given to scholars engaged in cutting-edge research with significant international relevance. Prof. Gray remarked, “Receiving this award is very meaningful. It acknowledges the importance of our work and is very gratifying and rewarding.”

Addressing Crucial Health Challenges

Prof. Gray’s research focuses on managing the risks of adverse birth events by exploring the impact of diseases such as HIV on placental development. Despite the success of antiretroviral treatment in preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission, challenges remain. Many children born to HIV-positive mothers face health issues like stunted growth, increased susceptibility to infections, and long-term learning difficulties. Prof. Gray’s work seeks to determine whether these outcomes are influenced by the antiretroviral drugs or the mother’s HIV status.

Pioneering Discoveries

Prof. Gray’s team has shown that women living with HIV who start antiretroviral treatment before pregnancy often experience maternal vascular malperfusion, a condition linked to poor placental blood vessel development. This condition increases the risk of premature birth and low birth weight, and is associated with high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems in mothers. For the first time, Prof. Gray established a link between long-term antiretroviral treatment and premature birth. His research identified a molecule in the placenta responsible for poor placental blood vessel formation and related maternal heart issues. The grant will support further validation of this hypothesis.

Building Research Capacity

In addition to groundbreaking research, Prof. Gray is committed to training the next generation of scientific leaders in South Africa. With over 25 years of experience, he aims to use the award to enhance the country’s scientific research capabilities. His project involves collaboration with HIV clinicians, cardiologists, immunologists, virologists, and statisticians from Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town, and the University of Surrey.

Institutional Support and Collaboration

Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences dean, Prof. Elmi Muller, congratulated Prof. Gray, highlighting his contributions to HIV immunology. The university’s vice-chancellor, Prof. Wim de Villiers, emphasized the international significance of Prof. Gray’s work and the crucial role of funding in advancing public health research.


Prof. Gray’s recognition as a Harry Oppenheimer Fellow underscores his exceptional contributions to maternal and child health research. His work not only enhances scientific knowledge but also aims to improve health outcomes in South Africa and beyond. The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust’s commitment to academic excellence continues to foster impactful research that addresses critical health challenges.

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