Physiology and the world: SANC-IUPS, APS

The PSSA on the international stage

More recently, the PSSA has also established robust links with the African Association of Physiological Sciences (AAPS), with Prof. Faadiel Essop serving on the current AAPS council. As part of this approach, several African delegates attended the successful PSSA congress held in Umhlanga (September 2014). The AAPS is planning a major conference for 2016 that will be held in Nigeria and the vision is to have strong representation from PSSA members. This will provide an opportunity for networking and building collaborations, learning about Physiological research undertaken by African biomedical researchers, and further strengthen the initiative to make Physiology a strong discipline within our continent.

The PSSA is also affiliated to the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS) by the South African chapter that is supported by the NRF. The current South African National Committee (SANC)-IUPS committee consists of:

  • Dr S Makaula (Walter Sisulu University Foundation)
  • Prof Nkeh-Chungag (Walter Sisulu University)
  • Prof MF Essop (Stellenbosch University)
  • Dr M Govender (University of Limpopo)
  • Dr P Mabeta (University of Pretoria)
  • Dr B Loos (Stellenbosch University)
  • Dr M Mabandla (University of KwaZulu-Natal).

Trends in Physiology

Physiology is defined as:

‘Study of the functioning of living organisms or their constituent tissues or cells. Physiology was usually considered separately from Anatomy until the development of high-powered microscopes made it clear that structure and function were inseparable at the cellular and molecular levels. An understanding of Biochemistry is fundamental to Physiology.

Physiological processes are dynamic; cells change their function in response to changes in the composition of their local environment, and the organism responds to alterations in both its internal and its external environment. Many physiological reactions are aimed at preserving a constant physical and chemical internal environment (homeostasis)’ (

This definition indicates the unique position of this discipline amongst its neighbouring disciplines, such as Biochemistry, Anatomy, Biology as well as Microscopy. The early French physiologist that coined the term ‘homeostasis’ was Claude Bernard (1813-1878), who said that  ‘the stability of the internal environment (the milieu intérieur) is the condition for the free and independent life’. This formed the foundation of the core of the discipline.

Bernard also highlighted another crucial aspect that becomes only now, almost 200 years later, apparent in the discipline: “This application of Mathematics to natural phenomena is the aim of all science, because the expression of the laws of phenomena should always be mathematical”.  The era of ‘’omics’’, i.e. metabolomics, proteomics and alike, is generating an amount of data that has never been dealt with before.  Sidney Brenner, the South African Nobel prize winner in Physiology summarizes this scenario as: ‘Biological research is in crisis.

Technology gives us the tools to analyze organisms at all scales, but we are drowning in a sea of data and thirsting for some theoretical framework with which to understand it’ (Brenner, Nature, Vol 482, 2012).  This and the current developments of interdisciplinary work, suggests that Physiology is the prime discipline that is best equipped to tackle the scientific challenges of the future.

Systems Physiology, integration and regulation of systems, downward causation, epigenetics and impact of micro-as well as external environment on function are and always have been an integral part of our discipline. Physiological sciences appears to re-emerge and reposition itself therefore strongly as a discipline that is most powerful, potentially more powerful than ever, in the arena of the life sciences.

Following the council meeting (early 2013), the PSSA has re-positioned itself to be a stronger regional player in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, within the African continent, and also on a global level. The organization has the vision to be more representative and inclusive of the SADC countries and several initiatives are planned to ensure this venture is successful.