Obituary – Professor Deon Bezuidenhout

Professor Deon Bezuidenhout, Technical Director of Strait Access Technologies passed away on April 16th, 2023. He was visiting Berlin when he suffered a massive heart attack and, in spite of the attention of world-class physicians at the Charité Hospital, was unable to recover.

Professor Bezuidenhout had been Technical Director of SAT from the very beginning of the company and made many significant contributions to technology development and the protection of intellectual property during the last 12 or so years.

His early academic career was undertaken at the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town, earning bachelor’s and doctorate degrees. He specialized in polymer science and engineering, with a particular emphasis on the medical uses of polymers. He joined the research group of Professor Zilla at UCT, where the University established a tenured senior lectureship for him in 2008; he was promoted to Associate Professor in 2013 and Full Professor in 2019. On Professor Zilla’s retirement from the Chris Barnard Professorship in 2021, Professor Bezuidenhout was appointed Head of the Cardiovascular Research Unit at UCT.

Professor Bezuidenhout had established himself as one of Africa’s leading scientists in the broad area of medical technology. His work focused on the design and application of polymers for implantable devices, particularly, but not only, in the cardiovascular field. His research concentrated on two main areas, both of which have had a significant impact on SAT, these being the optimization of pericardium for use in bioprosthetic valves and the design of synthetic, polyurethane-based leaflet structures for use in transcatheter valves. In the first case, the sophisticated, but scientifically validated, process of the pre-treatment of the bovine pericardium is now used in the SAT TAVR that is undergoing First-in-Human clinical trials in South Africa. In the second case, the development of what should be the world’s first synthetic leaflet TAVR, is close to completion. One of his major contributions to the standing of SAT has been his management of the whole of the company’s intellectual property portfolio, overseeing 15 different families of patents, with 90 applications and 74 issued to date, with a significant international representation.

Academically, his work has been fully recognized internationally, with his many scientific papers being published in some of the best journals, often being highly cited. He travelled extensively in Europe, North America and Asia to deliver high quality papers and lectures and was well respected by colleagues the world-over; he was heavily involved in collaborative projects with top-level institutes in other BRICS countries. That respect was also profound at the local level, where he supervised many honors, masters, and doctoral students, with a special, and unique, flavor of incorporating research-led medical engineering modules into both clinical and engineering degree courses.

Deon was a highly valued member of the teams at both SAT and UCT, with a tremendous capacity to work with individuals at all levels, from students, technicians and staff engineers to clinical colleagues and professors, with the objective of encouraging everyone to perform at the top of their ability. He will be missed by all those who worked with him and knew him personally. The management and staff of SAT are extremely grateful to him for his immense contributions over the last decade.