Change the world


Reasons to be Proud - #R2bP: Finding ways to treat diabetes using indigenous knowledge about natural remedies has won Dr Nehemiah Latolla of Nelson Mandela University the top place in the FameLab International science communication competition.

Dr Nehemiah Latolla, a phytochemist and researcher at the Nelson Mandela University was awarded first place in the International FameLab 2022 competition. In his winning talk he shared the bitter-sweet memory of homecare health, having to drink a mixture of Aloe Ferox in magnesium salt growing up. It was this experience that piqued his interest in the chemistry of plants. His current research at Nelson Mandela University looks for new, cost-effective, less-toxic medications to treat diabetes.

Medical chemistry straight from our back garden. Diabetes is the second leading cause of death due to disease in SA, after tuberculosis.

National FameLab winners from around the world competed in the International Final, an online event streamed live on YouTube on Friday 25 November. Contestants came from Germany, Thailand, Italy, Switzerland, The Czech Republic and of course, South Africa.

Each of the six finalists had three minutes to charm judges and viewers with a talk packed with interesting content, brimming with charisma and clear for all to understand. Contestants made use of interesting props in true FameLab fashion.

The contestants entertained viewers with interesting research from a wide variety of scientific fields. Christian Scharun from Germany talked about exploration of methane from the North Sea, a big topic in climate change at the moment. Nuti Hutasingh from Thailand had everybody’s mouths watering with a scientific approach to lowering sugar intake from confectionary. Italy’s Valentina Vavassori explained how viruses can be used to cure genetic diseases using gene therapy. Eliška Jandová from the Czech Republic shared exciting research finding hope in a drop of blood to treat cancer. Physicists Natascha Hedrich represented Switzerland best known for their chocolate, cheese and trains by explaining how electrons behave like passengers on a train.

Judges agreed that it was very difficult to select the winners. Nehemiah had the judges hooked from the start of his talk about looking to indigenous knowledge to develop new drugs to treat diabetes and hence took the title of FameLab International 2022 winner. The first runner-up award went to Eliška from the Czech Republic and second runner-up went to Nuti from Thailand. Nuti also won the audience vote.

FameLab is the biggest international competition that seeks and supports science communication talent. This year marked the celebration of the 10th season of FameLab in South Africa. The competition was brought to South Africa by Robert Inglis, Director of science communication agency Jive Media Africa. “For science to have positive impacts on people’s lives, it has to leave the laboratory” he said. “Science has tremendous potential to cause positive change for society and for the environment – but first it has to be shared. FameLab develops skills among young researchers to share their science with the world”.

Dr Latolla, a post-graduate researcher at Nelson Mandela University, charmed the judges with captivating storytelling skills and his passion for tapping into the wealth of SA’s indigenous knowledge about natural remedies to treat diabetes. His research in phytochemistry focuses on evaluating the safety and efficacy of natural products to treat diabetes. “SA has about 30 000 recorded plant species of which approximately 3 000 have the potential for medicinal use. However, there is a lack in the reported chemistry, safety, and efficacy of these medicinal plants,” according to Nehemiah.

In reaction to his win, Nehemiah said: “I am so incredibly overwhelmed and overjoyed by the wonderful honour that has been bestowed upon me as the International FameLab Winner 2022. This has been an incredible journey realised by sharing the indigenous knowledge systems of South Africa and their possibilities to address drug discovery. I am carried on the backs of amazing local and international young scientists who were brilliant in the delivery of all their research. I look forward to engaging more in this journey with FameLab.” Nehemiah thanked all his supporters and the organisers of FameLab for the opportunities afforded by this achievement.

As part of his win, Nehemiah will have the opportunity to travel to The UK for the Cheltenham Science Festival in June 2023.

This year’s panel of judges at the International Final included Emer Maguire, a four-time TEDx speaker and previous FameLab UK winner and award-winning radio presenter; Adrian Fenton from the British Council who has worked with FameLab for 15 years and Katrien Kolenberg, a professor of Astrophysics at the University of Antwerp and Free University of Brussels. Judges questioned contestants to test their knowledge and had the difficult task of selecting the winner.

FameLab, an initiative of Cheltenham Festivals in the UK, has been running in South Africa since 2013 through a partnership between the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (NRF-SAASTA) and research communication specialists, Jive Media Africa.

To be a part of FameLab in South Africa in 2023 go to:


Lithakazi Masilela, NRF-SAASTA, at

Shabnaaz Gani, Jive Media Africa at

About Jive Media Africa:

Jive Media Africa supports top researchers with innovative, cutting edge communications. They are winners of the National Science and Technology Forum Award for Science Communication and have brought the FameLab competition to South Africa in 2013. Jive Media Africa has been getting creative to connect researchers, engineers and scientists with the public. Through communication strategy, media production, training and mentorship their aim is to activate African knowledge and grow capacity for great research and innovation on the African continent. Find out more about Jive Media Africa here:

About the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA):

SAASTA is a business unit of the National Research Foundation (NRF) with the mandate to advance public awareness, appreciation and engagement of science, engineering and technology in South Africa. SAASTA’s contribution to the NRF’s vision is to grow the pool of quality learners today who will become the scientists and innovators of tomorrow. It aims to be the leading science advancement agency in the country by promoting and communicating the value and impact of science, technology and innovation in a dynamic knowledge economy. It also intends to contribute significantly towards building a science, engineering and technology (SET) human resource base. For more information on the operations and programs within the NRF please visit

About the National Research Foundation (NRF): 

The National Research Foundation (NRF) was established on 1 April 1999 as an independent statutory body in accordance with the National Research Foundation Act. The NRF is a key public entity responsible for supporting the development of human resources for research and innovation in all fields of science and technology. The organisation is one of the major players in educating and training a new generation of scientists able to deal with South African and African needs. The organisation encourages public awareness and appreciation of science, engineering and technology, and facilitates dialogue between science and society. Its vision is to contribute to a prosperous South Africa based on a knowledge economy. For more information on the operations and programs within the NRF please visit

Contact information
Mrs Beverley Erickson
Digital Communication Consultant
Tel: 0827720004