From grassroots to blue skies - innovative, translational neuroscience research to improve the lives of children with brain injuries in Africa, for the world.

The vision of the African Brain Child Initiative is a world where children with neurological conditions can maximize their potential. We aim to achieve this mission through a combination of clinical care, innovative clinical research, advocacy and capacity building. This work is enabled through a unique clinical and research infrastructure nested within Paediatric Neurosurgery at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and the University of Cape Town’s Neuroscience Institute. We are intentionally multidisciplinary, believing that ground-breaking insights are best achieved by bringing together the best clinical and basic science minds in a well-supported research environment with a critical mass of patients.

Children in Africa, and across the world, face a high burden of conditions that cause acute brain injury, which collectively account for the largest numbers of deaths and long-term disabilities. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of trauma-related deaths in children, which cause more deaths than tuberculosis, HIV and malaria combined (WHO Injury Report).  Tuberculous meningitis (TBM) is the most devastating form of TB disease and the most common cause of childhood meningitis in our region. Brain tumours are the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in children across the world. Epilepsy and hydrocephalus are common causes of death and disability, often secondary to conditions such as trauma and infections that predominate in an African setting.

What leads to poor outcomes from these conditions is poorly understood because the brain is difficult to study. Without advancing our understanding of these mechanisms we cannot optimize therapies. The ABC group is focused on unravelling the pathophysiological mechanisms that perpetuate injury in the developing brain with the aim of identifying novel interventions tailored to the individual patient. In this mission we have adopted an interdisciplinary, translational approach which combines a sophisticated clinical infrastructure of multimodality brain monitoring, high frequency physiological data and site-of-disease sample collection with cutting-edge laboratory techniques like next-generation sequencing, various -omics approaches, flow cytometry, and pharmacokinetics (PK).

Our unusual combination of a large burden of disease and sophisticated infrastructure places us in a prime position to be a world-leading centre for studying the paediatric brain. Along the way we learn important principles about how the brain functions. We focus on children but believe one cannot understand the adult brain without understanding how it developed. The secrets of the brain’s potential, and perhaps its vulnerability to disease in later life, reside in the paediatric brain.


Professor Anthony Figaji: Professor of Neurosurgery, South African National Research Foundation SARChI Chair of Clinical Neurosciences – Prof Figaji is the Director of ABC, Head of Paediatric Neurosurgery, and Principal Investigator on ABC research projects.

A/Professor Ursula Rohlwink: Senior research scientist – A/Prof Rohlwink is a Wellcome International Intermediate Fellow and Principal Investigator on numerous projects. Her interests include neurocritical care, brain injury due to trauma and infection (with a focus on TBM).

A/Professor Nico Enslin: Senior consultant Paediatric Neurosurgeon – A/Prof Enslin’s interests include paediatric neurosurgery, functional neurosurgery, epilepsy, movement disorders, and deep brain stimulation.

Dr Nqobile Thango: Consultant Paediatric Neurosurgeon – Dr Thango’s interests include TBI, neurocritical care and antibiotic PK in children with brain infections.

Dr Jill Combrinck: Chief Scientific Officer – Dr Combrinck supports all aspects of the dynamic and active research environment of ABC, her particular interest is in the ABC neuropharmacology projects.

Ms Lisa Rae Ungerer: Laboratory Manager for ABC and Neuroscience Institute Laboratory – Ms Ungerer in involved in maintaining and building the research laboratories, she also contributes to the clinical laboratory infrastructure.

Dr Yigael Powrie: Early Career Fellow – Dr Powrie’s research interests include cellular neurophysiology, neuroscience and biomarker discovery.

Dr Anel Sparks: Early Career Fellow – Dr Spark’s interests include genetics determinants of outcome, in particular following TBI.

Miss Devin van de Laar: Research Assistant – Miss van der Laar provides a supportive role to the ABC clinical and research activities, her interests include non-invasive neurotechnology and epidemiology.


Traumatic Brain Injury

Cerebrovascular Pressure Reactivity Has a Strong and Independent Association With Outcome in Children With Severe Traumatic Brain InjuryClaudia A Smith, Ursula K Rohlwink, Katya Mauff, Nqobile S Thango, Thembani S Hina, Shamiel Salie, Johannes M N Enslin, Anthony A Figaji. PMID: 36790173

Brain Tissue Oxygen Tension Monitoring in Pediatric Severe Traumatic Brain Injury: Part 1: Relationship with Outcome. Anthony A Figaji , Eugene Zwane, Crispin Thompson, A Graham Fieggen, Andrew C Argent, Peter D Le Roux, Jonathan C Peter. PMID: 19214532

Brain Tissue Oxygen Tension Monitoring in Pediatric Severe Traumatic Brain Injury: Part 2: Relationship with Clinical, Physiological, and Treatment Factors. Anthony A Figaji, Eugene Zwane, Crispin Thompson, A Graham Fieggen, Andrew C Argent, Peter D Le Roux, Jonathan C Peter. PMID: 19214533

Combining Brain Microdialysis and Translational Pharmacokinetic Modeling to Predict Drug Concentrations in Pediatric Severe Traumatic Brain Injury: The Next Step Toward Evidence-Based Pharmacotherapy?. Naomi Ketharanathan, Yumi Yamamoto, Ursula K Rohlwink, Enno D Wildschut, Ron A A Mathôt, Elizabeth C M de Lange, Saskia N de Wildt, Andrew C Argent, Dick Tibboel, Anthony A Figaji. PMID: 30019622

Tuberculosis Meningitis

Biomarkers of Cerebral Injury and Inflammation in Pediatric Tuberculous Meningitis. Ursula K Rohlwink, Katya Mauff, Katalin A Wilkinson, Nico Enslin, Emmanuel Wegoye, Robert J Wilkinson, Anthony A Figaji. PMID: 28605426

Tuberculous Meningitis in Children Is Characterized by Compartmentalized Immune Responses and Neural Excitotoxicity. Ursula K Rohlwink, Anthony Figaji, Katalin A. Wilkinson, Stuart Horswell, Abdul K Sesay, Armin Deffur,  Johannes M N Enslin, Regan Solomons, Ronald Van Toorn, Brian Eley, Michael Levin, Robert J Wilkinson & Rachel P J Lai. DOI :10.1038/s41467-019-11783-9

A Pilot Study of Inflammatory Mediators in Brain Extracellular Fluid in Paediatric TBM. Nicholas W Loxton, Ursula K Rohlwink, Mvuwo Tshavhungwe, Lindizwe Dlamini, Muki Shey, Nico Enslin, Anthony Figaji. PMID: 33711020