Core Divisional Staff
Head of Department
Professor Peter Zilla
Professor Zilla obtained his academic qualifications from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Zurich (Switzerland) and Cape Town (South Africa) and his clinical qualifications from the Austrian Physician’s Board and the College of Medicine of South Africa.
After graduating as “Doctor of Medicine” at the University of Vienna, Austria in 1980 he obtained a DMed. degree from the University of Zurich, Switzerland in 1983, a PD degree (PhD equivalent) from the University of Vienna and another PhD degree from the University of Cape Town in 1990.
Clinically, he was registered as a specialist general surgeon with the Austrian Physicians Board in 1988 followed by registration as a specialist vascular surgeon. After passing the fellowship examinations of the South African College of Medicine he was registered as a specialist cardiothoracic surgeon in SA in 1992.
As Professor Zilla’s aspiration was an academic career as a clinician scientist, he spent his initial three post-graduate years in basic science. After a year at the Department of Microbiology at the University of Vienna he became a lecturer at the Neurobiology Division of the Anatomical Institute of the University of Zurich, Switzerland from 1981 to 1983. Upon return to the University Hospital Vienna he obtained a major grant allowing him to establish his own research laboratories. In 1987 he followed an invitation from the Chris Barnard Department in Cape Town to set up a tissue engineering laboratory and perform preclinical trials with his method of ‘in vitro endothelialization’. After successfully demonstrating its clinical feasibility he became part of the tissue engineering program at the University of Zurich from 1989. When new operating theatres incorporating cell culture laboratories were custom built for his method of in vitro endothelialization in Austria he commenced a clinical program there of which he remained the scientific advisor for almost two decades. With the undertaking of a major American corporation to fund his plans for a similar research program for developing countries, he established the Cardiovascular Research Unit at the University of Cape Town in 1992, director of which he continues to be. With a staged investment of more than 70 million Rand he built a modern research institution with its own electron microscopes, state of the art experimental surgery, polymer, tissue culture and computer modeling laboratories.
Uniting cardiology, lipidology and cardiac surgical research under one umbrella, he was instrumental in founding the ‘Cape Heart Centre’ at UCT and the ‘MRC Cape Heart Group’ in 1996 and became its director in 1999.
Professor Zilla’s surgical career commenced with his residency at the University Hospital Vienna from 1983 to 1989, 18 months of which he spent at the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in Cape Town. His subsequent surgical positions were as Senior Registrar at the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery, University Hospital Zurich (1989-1990), Consultant in the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, Hospital Wels (1990-1992) and Senior Consultant in Cardiothoracic Surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital from 1992. After his appointment as Associate Professor in 1994, Principal Specialist in 1996 and Full Professor in 1999, he became Head of the Chris Barnard Division in 2000, in charge of cardiothoracic surgery at Groote Schuur and Red Cross Children’s Hospital. Under his leadership the Department expanded both their staff and their operations after a steep decline in adult cardiac cases in the second half of the 1990s. Over the past 10 years, the Department became a leading training institution for cardiothoracic surgeons from other African countries.
Prof. Zilla was instrumental in initiating the establishment of the UCT Private Academic Hospital and was successful in using his personal contacts with Rhoen Klinikum in Germany to invite them to found a ‘Rhoen Klinikum Cape Town’ together with UCT, which soon materialized.
His main research foci have been in the fields of tissue engineering and prosthetic cardiovascular implants. Pioneering tissue engineering since 1983, he developed a method of culturing the patient’s own endothelial cells on prosthetic surfaces. Today, after an international multi-centre study in the 1990s and with almost 500 patient-implants, the program is a show-case for clinical tissue engineering. Reflecting the wide impact of this aspect of his work, it has been cited almost 1500 times in the literature and he continues to give plenary talks at major conferences on the subject.
Professor Zilla’s second focus, improving heart valve prostheses for the young patients of developing countries, has led to a reduction of the prosthetic degeneration process by 97%. His other biotechnology development, utilizing shape-memory meshes for the protection of vein grafts, has successfully completed a multi-centre study in SA, Asia, Australia and Europe and has been introduced into clinical practice. His engagement in the field of rheumatic heart disease has additionally awarded him international recognition as a plenary speaker.
Realising the need for ‘home grown’ solutions to the health debacle of up to 70 million largely untreated patients with rheumatic heart disease in the Developing World, Professor Zilla co-founded a University of Cape Town Start-Up Company in 2008 under the name of ‘Strait Access Technologies’ (SAT). With an initial capital of 12 million rand from the South African Government’s ‘Technology Innovation Agency” (TIA) and 51 million rand from the South African Investment Group ‘BidVest’ (almost 5 million Euros), SAT embarked on an ambitious pursuit of securing its niche position in trans-catheter heart valve devices and their deployment systems through innovative concepts. As a result, SAT has not only secured key patents for enabling technologies that allow the precise, slow and non-intrusive deployment of the entire spectrum of SAT’s uniquely designed and IP protected trans-catheter heart valve devices, but is also ahead of schedule in its product developments, having already conducted initial animal trials successfully proving the design concepts.
Professor Zilla is author of 185 peer reviewed full papers and patents (104 times first author or corresponding author) having been cited >5,400 times with a total of 420 impact points and an H-factor of 36 (i10 Factor 91). Apart from holding 33 US/PCT patents (23 issued, 8 published and 2 filed) he is the editor of 5 books and has authored 24 book chapters. He obtained international academic and industry grants of almost 80 million rand. For his research he has been awarded the Theodor Billroth Award (Austrian Surg Soc); Sigma Tau Award (Intern. Union of Angiology); Alexis Carrel Award (German Soc Vasc Surg); Goetz Award (SA Cardiac Soc); Eiselsberg Award (Austrian Physicians Assoc) and Alain Carpentier Award (Int. Soc. Heart Valve Dis). He was the organizer of 5 major international conferences in 4 different countries; is a member and executive council member of 10 international societies; was president of ISACB from 1994-98; is a regular reviewer of the 18 top journals in his field and is on the editorial board of 3 major international journals and Associate Editor of ‘Biomaterials’ (IF 8).
Director of Surgery
Associate Professor Johan Brink
Assoc. Prof Johan Brink obtained his academic qualifications and undergraduate and postgraduate training from the University of Cape Town and his clinical and specialist qualifications from the College of Medicine of South Africa.
After graduating as Medical Doctor at the University of Cape Town in 1976, he spent his early medical career and military service in a variety of disciplines in hospitals in South Africa and Namibia (then South West Africa). He commenced his training in Cardiothoracic Surgery at Barnes Hospital at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri USA in 1982 and completed his training at Groote Schuur (GSH) and Red Cross Children’s (RXH) Hospitals at the University of Cape Town under Christiaan Barnard and his successors from1984 to 1988 when he was awarded the Fellowship in Cardiothoracic Surgery of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa. He was then appointed as Specialist Cardiothoracic Surgeon in the Christiaan Barnard Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery.
During his career he has focused on the clinical and surgical aspects of Cardiothoracic Surgery and has been heavily involved in the training of registrars and junior cardiothoracic surgeons. He has developed special interests in the following fields of cardiothoracic surgery: Thoracic organ transplantation; off-pump coronary artery bypass surgery; aortic and mitral valve repair; thoracic aortic surgery; arrhythmia surgery; adult and paediatric congenital heart disease; pulmonary thrombo-endarterectomy; HOCM surgery; minimally invasive cardiac surgery. He has also played a supportive and advocacy role in the Cardiovascular Research Unit at the University of Cape Town under Prof Peter Zilla. He was convener of the 2008 South African Heart Association congress with a record number of over 1300 delegates.
Prof. Brink played a major role in the Faculty of Health Sciences at UCT in developing the concept of a University Private Hospital which materialised in 2001 under the German company Rhoen Klinikum, with minority shares held by UCT. He subsequently played a leading role in maintaining the sustainability of the UCT Private Academic Hospital under various shareholders until stability ensued under a major South African Health Care Provider in 2009. He remains on the board as an honorary director.
He has trained over 20 cardiothoracic surgeons, including trainees from other African Countries such as Nigeria, Namibia and Zambia. Prof. Brink continues to support them in their endeavours to create sustainable cardiac centres in Africa. One former trainee has developed a successful, self sustaining cardiac service in the public and private sectors in Namibia; Prof. Brink actively supports this centre with regular visits. More recently (2014) he has been the Division’s driving force for setting up similar services in Nigeria (University of Ilorin) and Zambia (University of Zambia).
Prof. Brink has also been actively involved in the training and ongoing medical education of Cardiothoracic surgeons in South Africa in multiple roles within the College of Cardiothoracic Surgeons of South Africa, as Examiner, Convener, Senator and President of the College. He has also held various positions within the South African Heart Association. He is a reviewer for local and international cardiovascular journals and has presented at congresses nationally and internationally as invited plenary speaker.
Since 1993 Prof. Brink has been the Director of Heart Transplantation within the Chris Barnard Division and in 1999 was acting Head of Department during the sabbatical of the then-Head. After having been short-listed for the Chris Barnard Chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Cape Town Prof Brink was appointed Director of Clinical Services in the Chris Barnard Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery for its associated academic hospitals, Groote Schuur, Red Cross Children’s, and UCT Private Academic Hospitals. In 2003 he was awarded Associate Professorship by UCT.
Over the last 15 years Prof. Brink has held many prestigious positions such as that of President of the South African Transplantation Society; President of the South African Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons as well as President and Senator of the College of Cardiothoracic Surgery within the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa.
Director of Paediatric Surgery
Associate Professor John Hewitson
Assoc. Prof. John Hewitson qualified as a doctor (MBChB) at the University of Cape Town in 1977.
Following internship in Cape Town he spent six months at a rural hospital in Lesotho. After two years as a non-combatant conscientious objector to compulsory military service in the SA Defence Force, he began training in General Surgery at the University of Cape Town in 1982. Three years later the field of Cardiothoracic Surgery drew his interest and he left General Surgery to start Cardiothoracic training in 1985. In 1988 he received the Fellowship in Cardiothoracic Surgery of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa and registered as a specialist Cardiothoracic Surgeon.
A fellowship in Europe followed in 1989, when he spent time with Peter Goldstraw at the Brompton Chest Hospital in London (Thoracic Surgery), Alain Carpentier at Hôpital Broussais in Paris (valve repair techniques), and John Wallwork at the Papworth Transplant Centre UK (thoracic transplantation). On return to UCT he ran the Thoracic Surgery service for a year before taking over as director of the Transplantation program in 1991. In 1993 he became section head of Paediatric cardiothoracic surgery within the Chris Barnard Division at Red Cross Children’s Hospital, in order to pursue what was always his primary interest. He still holds this position.
Assoc. Prof. Hewitson was appointed to the position of Principal Specialist and awarded Associate Professorship in 2009 by UCT. His special interests include paediatric thoracic surgery, cardiac valve repair techniques, rheumatic heart disease, and infant congenital cardiac surgery. In addition he has travelled extensively in sub-Saharan Africa with the goal of assisting the development of paediatric cardiac services.
Assoc. Prof. Hewitson is currently a member of the Governing Council of the World Society for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery, and the Constitutional Committee for the Paediatric Chapter of the Pan African Society of Cardiology. He was Scientific co-Chair for the 6th World Congress of Paediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery in 2013, and is a former President of the Paediatric Cardiac Society of South Africa. He is on the Editorial board for the Children’s Heartlink biennial reports (“Global efforts for improving pediatric heart health”), and has published 11 international and 22 local peer-reviewed papers, and authored six chapters in books.
Director of Adult Thoracic Surgery
Associate Professor Anthony Linegar
Assoc. Prof. Anthony Linegar, MB ChB, FCS (SA) (Cardiothoracic Surgery), PhD, is a Specialist Surgeon in General Thoracic Surgery. He is Head of Thoracic Surgery at the Chris Barnard Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Cape Town’s Groote Schuur Hospital, and is an Affiliated Lecturer and Associate Professor of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. He has also been in private practice at N1 City Hospital, Cape Town since 1995.
Undergraduate qualifications were obtained at Stellenbosch University in 1984. Prof. Linegar completed his specialist training in cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Cape Town in 1992 and thereafter was appointed senior registrar in thoracic surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital London (UK) under Mr Peter Goldstraw.
On returning to South Africa in 1994, he focused his attention on general thoracic surgery and critical care medicine. His critical care experience focused mainly on the management of postsurgical patients and polytrauma patients with a particular interest in artificial ventilation strategies. His main surgical interests have included the development of thoracic surgery, thoracic surgical oncology, oesophageal disease and surgery for inflammatory lung disease in the developing world.
These interests led him to the University of Free State, Bloemfontein, in 2004, where he worked with Prof Francis Smit in setting up a thoracic surgical service for central South Africa and where he completed a Ph.D. in 2008 titled “A model for the development of thoracic surgery in central South Africa.” This study was promoted by Prof Gert Van Zyl (Dean Health Sciences Faculty, UFS), Prof Peter Goldstraw (Imperial College London, UK) and Prof Francis Smit (HOD Cardiothoracic surgery, UFS). After a period of full-time employment in the Free State, family commitments required him to return to Cape Town at the end of 2010.
Prof. Linegar has published 35 peer-reviewed publications and text book chapters in thoracic surgery. He has presented numerous papers at international and local conferences and is frequently an invited speaker on various subjects in general thoracic surgery.
In addition to his clinical work he was employed as a research consultant to the Council of Health Services Accreditation South Africa (COHSASA) and worked under Prof Stuart Whittaker (CEO and Founder of CHOSASA) until he was appointed head of thoracic surgery at Groote Schuur hospital, when the combined workloads necessitated choices. He is currently a member of the Board of directors of COHSASA. Current professional activities include: Regent of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC), Senator and Secretary of the Colleges of Medicine (SA) in Cardiothoracic Surgery, Treasurer of the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons of South Africa, and Physician’s Advisory Board Member to Netcare at N1 City Hospital.
Director of Research
Dr Paul Human
Dr Paul Human obtained his academic qualifications from the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town (South Africa). After obtaining the B.Sc. degree at the University of Stellenbosch (Biochemistry and Microbiology majors) in 1982 he continued his studies in Biochemistry, achieving the B.Sc.(Hons) (1983) and M.Sc. (cum laude) (1986) degrees from the same University. After a brief two-month exchange programme at the Weizmann Institute of Science (Rehovot, Israel) in the Membrane Research Department, he subsequently joined the Chris Barnard Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Cape Town/Groote Schuur Hospital under Professor Bruno Reichart. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in Cardiothoracic Surgery from the University of Cape Town in 2001.
Dr Human’s research included working closely with the Chris Barnard Division’s Professor David Cooper in the field of cardiac xenotransplantation and Dr Dimitri Novitsky in the field of transplant donor hormonal management. In the former, his research concentrated on the reduction of circulating preformed natural antibody known to result in hyperacute rejection of transplanted organs. He has also conducted extensive research into crystalloid solutions for long-term donor organ preservation, particularly heart and lung, also subsequently focusing on short-term cardioplegic solutions.
In his capacity as head of Pathobiology Research in the Cardiovascular Research Unit, he concentrated on the phenomenon of acute dystrophic calcification of heart valve prostheses, a problem significantly limiting their use in children. He also managed and was involved in the production of both fresh and cryopreserved homograft valves which were made available for clinical use, both locally, nationally and internationally. His Ph.D., for which he received the Bronte Stewart research prize, examined the host immune response associated with heart valve bioprostheses. At a time when few, if any, scientists supported the notion of an immune driven mechanism of bioprosthesis mineralization, he provided tantalizing evidence of such a process and this concept is more widely accepted currently.
This bioprosthetic valve research represented a significant part of the Division’s two-decade contract with a major multinational medical device company. Subsequent to the valve related work, Dr Human also headed similarly funded research geared to better understand the relative contributions of insulin resistance versus obesity in the generation of coronary artery restenosis and to evaluate the potential for protein drug immunogenicity due to the development of drug aggregates associated with pump delivery and their capability of breaking tolerance.
Dr Human has also been responsible for vetting and spearheading the statistical analyses of both clinical and research papers produced within the Division. This includes propensity score matching of patients included in retrospective studies which has greatly facilitated the Division’s ability to provide statistically sound analyses and provide important insight into heart disease in the indigent patient. Central to this is his development of four core intelligent clinical patient management relational databases for adult cardiac and adult thoracic (Groote Schuur Hospital) and for paediatric cardiac and paediatric cardiology (Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital) patients.
He has served for extended periods on both the University of Cape Town’s Department of Surgery Research Committee and on the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Animal Ethics Committee, the latter as both Co-Chairman and Chairman.
Dr Human is author of 88 peer reviewed full papers and patents having been cited 1,924 times with an H-index of 25 and an i10 index of 39. He has contributed to four books in the field.
Senior Consultant Paediatric Surgery
Dr Andre Brooks
Dr Andre Brooks obtained his MB.ChB from the University of Stellenbosch in 1993. His internship was done in 1994 at Livingstone Hospital, Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape. During this time he was exposed to the Cardiothoracic surgical service and for the following two years took up a position as a medical officer in this department. Under the guidance of very experienced and enthusiastic senior surgeons he built up a clinical experience in all aspects of the specialty. Two years later, 1997, Dr Brooks was accepted as a Registrar at the University Hospitals of Edinburgh. For his intermediate College exam he was awarded the Brebner Medal of Excellence.
Dr Brooks joined the Division of Cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Cape Town in 2000 and obtained his exit exams from the College of Medicine of South Africa (FC Cardio (SA)) in 2003. At this time he decided to train further as a paediatric cardiothoracic surgeon and remained in service in a bridging position between the adult service at Groote Schuur Hospital and the paediatric service at Red Cross Children’s War Memorial Hospital, with the emphasis on paediatric cardiothoracic surgery. In 2006 Dr. Brooks he did a fellowship at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, in Birmingham, UK. Since his return to the Chris Barnard Division in 2007, Dr. Brooks has been instrumental in major changes in the paediatric cardiothoracic surgical program. The main emphasis has been to move emphasis away from palliative procedures to a strategy of corrective surgery whenever possible. The rationale for this change was summarized in a landmark publication on the outcome of pulmonary artery banding as used for palliation of patients with a large left-to-right shunt. Based on this research the Division today follows a strategy of definitive correction whenever possible. In addition, an aggressive strategy of biventricular repair is being followed and new techniques, such as conduit-less reconstruction of the right ventricular outflow tract, has been introduced.
Dr. Brooks’ current research is inter alia focused on the palliation of cyanotic heart disease as well as the earlier correction of AVSDs. Within the Hospital structure Dr Brooks serves on the quality control committee, the drug and therapeutic committee and the surgical site infection committee. With regards to undergraduate training he has been involved in teaching at the Student Surgical Society and has secured new lectures for the 5th year undergraduate students as from 2015, with the aim of introducing them to Cardiothoracic Surgery. He is an examiner of the College of Medicine of South Africa since 2012 and an executive member of the Paediatric Cardiac Society of South Africa (PCSSA).
Dr Brooks has been involved in a number of cardiac surgical missions to the heart institute of Mozambique, where has helped establish a heart surgery unit, in association with the French non-profit organization CDE. He also collaborates with the founder of the recently established heart unit in Namibia. Recently, he obtained a grant from the IPTA with the view to establishing an ECMO and paediatric cardiac transplant program. Dr Brooks has been invited as an executive member in the newly reformed Chris Barnard Heart Foundation with the main aim of supporting the congenital cardiac surgical program at the Red Cross Children’s war memorial teaching and the general support of this specialty in Africa.
Senior Specialist Cardiothoracic Surgeon
Dr Jacques Scherman
Dr Scherman obtained his MBChB degree (“Doctor of Medicine”) from the University of Pretoria in 1998, followed by a Diploma in Occupational Medicine (cum laude) from the University of Stellenbosch. After being awarded the Fellowship in Cardiothoracic Surgery from the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (FC Cardio (SA)) in 2008, he was registered as a specialist cardiothoracic surgeon in South Africa. He further completed a Masters degree in Cardiothoracic Surgery (thesis awarded cum laude) at the University of Cape Town.
After completing his general surgical training whilst serving in the South African Military Services, Dr Scherman joined the Chris Barnard Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery in Cape Town in 2003 as a registrar. In 2007 he was appointed as Senior Registrar in the department and as Consultant from 2009 onwards. He then proceeded to further his training in minimally invasive cardiac surgery and catheter based heart valve interventions, being appointed as full time staff surgeon at the University Hospital of Zurich in Switzerland, between 2011 and 2012.
Dr Scherman’s interests and current research focuses on minimally invasive cardiac surgery and catheter based heart valve interventions. He established and heads the largest university hospital based minimally invasive cardiac surgical program in South Africa and also the first university based transcatheter aortic valve insertion (TAVI) program in the country, serving as co-PI for the national South African TAVI registry. He is a consultant for a University of Cape Town Start-Up Company under the name ‘Strait Access Technologies’ (SAT), pursuing transcatheter heart valve devices tailor made for the developing world.
Dr Scherman is author of 24 original papers and 1 book chapter, having been cited 122 times with a total of 84 impact points and an H-factor of 6 (RG 24).
Part-time Senior Specialist Cardiothoracic Surgeon
Dr Wilhelm Lichtenberg
Dr Lichtenberg obtained his MBChB degree (“Doctor of Medicine”) from the University of the Free State in 1991. He commenced his training in cardiothoracic surgery at Groote Schuur and Red Cross Children’s Hospitals in 1997. He worked as a senior registrar in the department from 2003 to 2006 after completing his MMed exam and obtained a Masters degree in Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Cape Town with a thesis on Surgery for complications of pulmonary tuberculosis in 2006.
Throughout his training period, he was actively involved in various different research projects at the Cardiovascular Research Unit, most notably on the investigation of external support of vein grafts for coronary artery bypass grafts. He is the co-author of 3 original papers on this project.
He commenced private practice in Cape Town in 2006, which he continues today.
In 2013, Dr Lichtenberg returned to the CVRU to involve himself further in research activities and was co-opted onto the team of Straight Access Technologies as the PI on a project for the long-term evaluation of bioprosthetic heart valve calcification in an in vivo circulatory sheep model.
At the same time, he was also recruited back onto the clinical staff of the Chris Barnard Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery as a part-time consultant.
Transplant Clinic Medical Officer
Dr Karen Seele
Dr Karen Seele obtained her MbChB from Stellenbosch University in 1985, followed by housemanship at Conradie Hospital. After initially locuming in England, in 1987 she joined Tygerberg Hospital and worked for two years as an MO in the paediatric and obstetric departments, and then again as MO for a year in Day Hospitals within the Cape Town Metropole. She joined Groote Schuur and UCT Private Academic Hospitals in her current capacity as a part-time MO in the Cardiac Transplant Unit in 1998.