Secretary/ Treasurer

Student Representative


President: Professor MF Essop

Prof. Faadiel Essop completed his undergraduate studies and PhD degree at the University of Cape Town. At the end of 1998 he took up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Hatter Heart Research Institute at the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Health Sciences. Here, he worked under the tutelage of Profs. Lionel Opie and Michael Sack (currently at the NIH), elucidating cardioprotective pathways in response to hypoxia and also the pathogenesis of obesity/type 2 diabetes-related heart diseases. During 2004, his joint research work with Prof. Heinrich Taegtmeyer (University of Texas-Houston Medical School) received the Young Investigators award at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology. Prof. Essop was also awarded a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to spend time (2005-06) in Professor Heinrich Taegtmeyer’s laboratory, a world leader in cardiac metabolism, at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School. During February 2007, he migrated across the Liesbeek River and joined the Department of Physiological Sciences (Stellenbosch University) as Associate Professor.   During 2009 Prof. Essop was appointed as chairperson of the Department of Physiological Sciences and promoted to full professor from the beginning of 2011. The Cardio-Metabolic Research Group (CMRG) is headed by Prof. Faadiel Essop. The mission of the CMRG is to investigate the underlying mechanisms driving the onset of the metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The CMRG’s research initiatives are highly relevant since future projections indicate that type 2 diabetes and heart disease will be the major cause of death in developing countries within the next few decades, with those in their prime labor years to be hardest hit. Projections indicate a significantly increased burden of disease that will have serious socio-economic implications including greater health-care costs and diminished productivity. These alarming projections together with the limited research capacity within South Africa in the cardiovascular diseases field have led to the CMRG focusing on the metabolic syndrome, a cluster of factors (e.g. hyperglycemia, dyslipidemia, high blood pressure), that predispose individuals to greater risk for the onset of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Specifically, the major focus of the CMRG is to investigate the effects of elevated metabolites (glucose, lipids) on the development of insulin resistance/diabetes and heart diseases (ischemia, acute heart failure).   The CMRG is also investigating the effects of HIV anti-retroviral treatment on the development of cardio-metabolic diseases. Prof. Essop currently resides in Paarl and is married to Dr. Rehana Essop. They have three children, Ziyaad, Aaliyah and Yasin. His hobbies include travelling to really interesting destinations, reading and discussing philosophical issues relating to modern-day living, playing tennis and watching great sporting events.

Dr Balindiwe Sishi

Dr Balindiwe Sishi, mostly known as Bali is a senior lecturer at the department of Physiological Sciences, Stellenbosch University. Born in the Eastern Cape, raised in KZN and now residing in Stellenbosch, she is truly a coastal girl. She graduated with a B.Sc. (2006), B.Sc. Hon. (2007), MSc (2008) and a Ph.D (2012) all from Stellenbosch University. She then pursued her academic career by being actively involved in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, as well as research. As part of her research activities, she heads the Cardio-Oncology Research Group (CORG) which conducts basic research on the side effects of the chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin in the heart. The group’s interests lie in understanding the basic mechanism of cardiovascular damage by paying particular attention to mitochondrial dysfunction, ER and oxidative stress, protein degradation systems and calcium regulation within this context.

Bali fondly remembers her first PSSA conference in 2007, then hosted by WITS at the Cradle of Human Kind. This was where her passion for physiology was truly ignited. Looking back, she has since been a regular attendee at this conference and 10 years later elected as the secretary/treasurer of the PSSA. Bali is a people’s person that enjoys interacting with like-minded individuals. She likes to teach but enjoys learning much more. Her hobbies include reading, shopping, dancing and like most individuals in Stellenbosch and the surrounds, wine tasting. She lives by the motto: WORK SMARTER NOT HARDER.

Mari Du Toit

Mari Du Toit is an aspiring young researcher currently working on her MMedSc degree in Human Physiology.

She completed her BSc in Human Physiology, Genetics and Psychology at the University of Pretoria after which she expanded her horizons and completed her BMedSc Hons in Human Physiology at the University of the Free State.

Mari currently holds the position of Professional Services Officer for Physiology in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences at the University of the Free State. She is responsible for running the physiology practical laboratory and is currently assisting with developing the Department’s research techniques with regards to anthropometry and spectrophotometry. She also has interests in the fields of Neurophysiology and Sport physiology.

Mari is a very adventurous person taking pleasure in mountain biking, hiking and river rafting while not reading. One of her favorite quotes is by American football player and coach Vince Lombardi – “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will”.

As the student representative council member, students can feel free to contact her about queries at

Prof. Stefan S du Plessis

Prof. Stefan S du Plessis is Head of the Division of Medical Physiology and full professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He graduated with a B.Sc. (1989), BSc. Hon. cum laude (1990), M.Sc. (1994), Hon.B., B&A (1997), MBA (1999) and Ph.D. (2002) from Stellenbosch University.

Prof. du Plessis is actively involved in undergraduate teaching to medical and allied health students. As an NRF rated researcher he also heads up the Stellenbosch University Reproductive Research Group (SURRG) in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, thereby being responsible for basic research on male gametes and post graduate student training. His research interest is sperm function and the factors that can influence it (oxidative stress, anti-oxidants, non-communicable diseases and STI’s). Internationally Prof. du Plessis collaborates extensively with researchers at the Cleveland Clinic (USA), University of Cordoba (Spain), Universidad de Antioquia (Colombia) and the Slovak Agricultural University of Nitra (Slovakia).

To date he has published more than 70 peer reviewed scientific articles, 25 book chapters and 3 books. He serves on the editorial board of two leading international journals and regularly acts as an ad hoc reviewer for various scientific journals and funding bodies. As a teacher he is recognized by serving as faculty member, moderator and examiner to several national and international universities as well as the SA College of Medicine.

Prof. Du Plessis is a former recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship which enabled him to spend one year at the American Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Ohio, USA. At institutional level he served on the University Council for two terms and is currently a member of Senate, Faculty Board and Research Subcommittee C.

Prof. du Plessis is married to Wendy and has two children (Christopher and Megan). They stay in Durbanville which is a rural residential suburb on the northern outskirts of the Cape metropolis and is surrounded by farms producing some of his favourite consumables i.e. wine and wheat.

Dr Aletta Millen

Dr Aletta Millen completed her BSc Sport Science degree, Honours in Biokinetics and MSc degree at Stellenbosch University where she received the Rector’s Medal for academic excellence. She completed her PhD in Physiology at the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a senior lecturer in the School of Physiology at the same institution. Dr Millen is a part of a team of researchers in the Cardiovascular Pathophysiology and Genomics Research Unit under the direction of Professors Gavin Norton and Angela Woodiwiss.   Currently one of the main projects in this research unit is the African Program on Genes in Hypertension (APOGH) study. APOGH is the first large family-based cross-sectional and prospective population study ever conducted in Africa to identify the factors that determine all conventional and novel cardiovascular risk factors in groups of African ancestry. Further, Dr Millen’s research interests include the understanding of mechanisms of cardiovascular disease and the roles of various lifestyle factors in either the development or prevention of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. More specifically, the lifestyle factors which she is particularly interested in are exercise in the prevention and or management of hypertension, inflammation (using a model of obesity and rheumatoid arthritis) in the contributions to hypertension and other subclinical cardiovascular outcomes.   Dr Millen has also established a large study on the cardiovascular outcomes of patients with rheumatoid arthritis in conjunction with Professor Patrick Dessein. She is also interested in the use of lifestyle and pharmacological therapy to prevent the progression of cardiovascular disease. Dr Millen is very passionate about the prevention and management of chronic diseases in South Africa through lifestyle and pharmacological treatment.