CPUT researcher honoured at ‘Oscars of Science’ for data publication

21 Aug 2019 - 10:15

South Africa faces a very high burden of diabetes and associated cardiovascular disease, but the risk factors of these non-communicable diseases among African populations are not well understood. Professor Tandi Matsha of Cape Peninsula University Technology (CPUT), is working to change that.

sharing research

Professor Tandi Matsha
Professor Tandi Matsha

Earlier this year she was awarded the NSTF Data for Research Award at the National Science and Technology Foundation-South32 Awards – dubbed the ‘Oscars of Science’ – for her work in identifying cardio-metabolic risk factors in South African populations of mixed ancestry and making that data available for reuse through the CPUT instance of Figshare, funded through the ilifu project.

The award acknowledged the novelty and importance of the data produced through Matsha’s research, as well as the value of the publication so that the data can be used to contribute to further breakthroughs in this field.

Matsha, who is the founder and lead researcher at the Cardiometabolic Health Research Unit at CPUT and a Department of Science and Technology – National Research Foundation South Africa Research Chair in Cardiometabolic Health, used an integrated approach. This included both epigenetics and genetic analysis to understand the genesis of diabetes and identify a panel of markers with diagnostic and therapeutic relevance. Her own findings from this data has made significant impact – including demonstrating that the internationally recommended waist and waist-to-height threshold to diagnose obesity are inaccurate – but the data itself will continue to enrich the field as other researchers can now access and use it.

“I must acknowledge the work of the CPUT research librarian Veliswa Tshetsha, who worked tirelessly to help me publish this data on Figshare in a manner in which I felt comfortable with,” says Matsha.

“There is a lot of anxiety around data publication among researchers, even while there is greater pressure on us to publish data,” she says. “Through platforms like Figshare the researcher can still have some control over who accesses the data and for what purpose.”

The National Research Foundation (NRF) and other funding bodies are increasingly demanding that researchers make their data public along with the published paper. In response to these new demands on researchers a consortium of research institutions in the Western and Northern Cape was awarded funding to build a regional cloud computing research infrastructure, called ilifu. A part of the ilifu mandate was the development of research data management tools and systems for the institutions in the consortium. It is through the ilifu consortium that CPUT acquired Figshare, an international online data repository.

“In addition to external requirements there are good reasons for open publication of both traditional research outputs and data,” says Janine Lockhart, Library Manager, Research Support and Faculty of Applied Sciences at CPUT Libraries. “Everything that is accessible on open access will boost metrics and impact.”

She says Figshare is a particularly user-friendly interface which, importantly, researchers can use to keep their work private until they are ready for publication. Then the data is available both on the CPUT instance as well as internationally through the Figshare platform. But stresses Lockhart, open publication does not mean researchers completely cede control of their data.

“There are different levels of openness, and our library staff are ready to assist researchers to make sure they understand their options when publishing their data.”