Professor Karen Sliwa joined the University of Cape Town on 1 March 2010 as Professor of Cardiovascular Research and the Director of the Hatter Institute.

Karen Sliwa was born in Germany, graduated in medicine at the Free University in Berlin 1990, gained the Diploma in Tropical medicine and Hygiene (University of the Witwatersrand 1995), qualified as a specialist physician (1997) and cardiologist (2000) from the Faculty of Medicine in Berlin. She obtained a PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2002. She was promoted to Associate Professor of Medicine and Cardiology at the University of Witwatersrand in 2003 and in 2009 obtained a full professorship. She became the Director of the Soweto Cardiovascular Research Unit, a Wits recognized research entity in 2006 and has established a very active research group with 9 post-doctoral researchers from all over Africa.

The work was recognized by the European Society of cardiology electing her to the Fellowship in 2001, and by the American College of cardiology by a Fellowship in 2008. She was appointed as Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the University of Brisbane, Australia in 2007.

Professor Karen Sliwa worked as an intern, medical officer, specialist physician and cardiologist at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto for 17 years.

Professor Sliwa is one of the very rare cardiologists in South Africa who is clinically active and trained in fundamental molecular laboratory methods, combining laboratory and epidemiological skills.

She has widely published in both local and international journals and books of various topics related to cardiovascular medicine. The National Research Foundation has awarded her a B2 rating in recognition of her leading role in her field.

She is skilled in applying basic research methods to clinical problems and then devising novel and appropriate therapy. A major example is her work on heart failure of previously unknown origin, occurring in African women about the time of childbirth (post-partum cardiomyopathy).  By studying a laboratory rodent model, together with Professor Hilfiker-Kleinert from Hannover, Germany, they established the molecular mechanism of the disease and devised a hormonal cure with bromocriptine.


For the last 10 years her main focus of research has related to immune activation and left ventricular remodeling in idiopathic and peripartum cardiomyopathy (heart failure).

More recently, she initiated and currently leads a large collaborative project: ‘The Heart of Soweto Study’ (The Lancet, 2008), which seeks to better understand the emergence of heart disease in Africa’s largest community of Black Africans in epidemiological transition. This project is part of a collaborative venture with the Baker International Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia and the University of Queensland, Australia. It involves a large cardiac registry capturing data on more than 9000 patients from Soweto, as well as community focused awareness and intervention programs.

Karen initiated recently with colleagues a new University of the Witwatersrand recognized Research Thrust ‘Diseases of Lifestyle-an emerging African problem’.

Collaborations and affiliations

As part of her research program, Karen has established strong collaborations with a range of prestigious national and international clinical and academic centers, including Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town; Maputo University, Mozambique; Hannover University, Germany and others.

She holds an appointment as adjunct professor at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia and as a visiting professor at the Baker Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

She is internationally recognized for her outstanding work in the area of heart failure. She is an editorial consultant to the prestigious medical journal ‘The Lancet’ and various journal boards. The European Society of Heart Failure has recognised her skills and she chairs one of their working Groups.  She has been invited to give lectures to the European Heart Failure Society, the Australian Cardiac Society and to the Japanese Cardiac Society

Karen is the Chairperson of the South African Heart Failure Society (HEFSSA; www.hefssa.org), which was established under her leadership in 2005. She is also the convenor of the Pan African Society of Cardiology (PASCAR) study group on heart failure in Africa.  She was the chief organiser of the South African Heart Association Congress in October 2009.

She co-chairs a newly established Heart Failure Association of the ESC study group on Peripartum cardiomyopathy.

Current challenges

Karen is working very intensively on the problem of heart failure of unknown origin in Africans. She is concerned at the increasing incidence of obesity, the high incidence of hypertensive heart failure and the unknown causes of failure of the right side of the heart found in the inhabitants of Soweto. She is currently working with the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne and the University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Professor Sliwa now plans to extend her “Heart of Soweto Study” to other parts of Africa, as “The Heart of Africa Study.”