Frater Centre

Robert WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre

UFS strip research

Research focus and activities

The Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery's research efforts have a long history since the establishment of a homograft bank in the 1980s, and animal research and laboratory-based research on cardioplegia by Prof Hannes Meyer. Renewed interest since 2004 resulted in several research projects, culminating in the establishment of the Robert WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre (Frater Centre) in 2015.

The vision of the Frater Centre is to be a leading cardiovascular research institution in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. The centre provides an interdisciplinary training and research platform for scientists and clinicians from different backgrounds to develop as researchers and collaborators in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery and related domains. Activities focus on disease entities and research areas for African problems and solutions. 

The Robert WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre has three main divisions:

  1. The Clinical Research Division addresses cardiovascular disease broadly, ranging from population and prevalence studies to health-care solutions and clinical outcomes studies in a specific South African and African context.
  2. The Research, Development and Commercialisation division is divided into Tissue Engineering and Cell Biology, Tissue Banking and Large Animal Studies, as well as Bioengineering to develop African solutions and technology within these domains.
  3. The Simulation programme provides an integrated interdisciplinary platform for the education and training of individuals and teams in the cardiovascular, thoracic, anaesthetic, perfusion technology and related nursing fields in a state-of-the-art simulation unit. We are developing a unique and leading programme and systems in this field. In this endeavour, we are also developing IT models for training, evaluation, and research.

The Robert WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre has established itself as an essential cardiovascular research, training, development, and innovation unit in sub-Saharan Africa. The Frater Centre addresses our unique challenges using an interfaculty, interuniversity, national, and international interdisciplinary and collaborative approach.

Key achievements:

In addition to the PhD honoris causa awarded to Dr Robert WM Frater, as well as 14 MMed Cardiothoracic Surgery degrees awarded since 2009, we have consistently produced postgraduate students for the University of the Free State (UFS), the Central University of Technology, and Stellenbosch University. For the period 2008-2023, this included 11 doctorates and 19 master’s degrees. We have also hosted three Postdoctoral Research Fellows.

The Frater Centre has delivered more than 100 congress papers. The Head of the Department, Prof Francis Smit, has delivered more than 65 invited lectures at international scientific meetings. Since 2019, 26 subsidy-carrying articles have been published in accredited journals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided the Frater Centre with a unique opportunity to study the role of supplementary oxygen strategies in the South African population. A multiport supplementary O2 delivery system (the Oxydus) with A2N vacuum has been developed, providing unique and accurate data on strategies and outcomes for the treatment of COVID-19 pneumonia. This project contributed to the MMed studies of four Cardiothoracic Surgery registrars and several articles.


Frater Centre researchers have received funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF), Medical Research Council (MRC), AstraZeneca, and the UFS Interdisciplinary Research Grant.

The Frater Centre houses the only homograft bank in Southern Africa. The homograft tissue bank banked its first valves in 1984, and since then has procured 2 235 aortic and 954 pulmonary valves from 2 036 donors, of which 1 581 valves have been implanted nationally and internationally. The current expansion of the bank towards a multi-tissue bank will include amniotic membrane banking for ophthalmology patients and burn patients, as well as ovarian tissue banking for young oncology patients.

The Frater Centre holds a worldwide patent for a decellularisation and sterilisation process for implantable or transplantable biological material of animal or human origin (1702008.0-1455, EU, 2017). This technology, which has a specific application in cardiovascular devices in younger developing world populations and children, has the potential to make a significant contribution in this field. To complete the evaluation of this technology in a valve-related environment, we have entered into a collaborative agreement with Stellenbosch University. Stellenbosch University provides the TAVR technology, stents, and valve construction using bovine pericardium samples provided and prepared by the Frater Centre. This study will allow the finalisation of our technology in the juvenile ovine model. The commercialisation of this collaborative project seeds with the UFS. A pre-clinical non-human primate study will be performed to investigate the immune response to the processed tissue.

The simulation unit has successfully developed the my-Campus smartphone platform for interdisciplinary use and is in the early phase of commercialisation. This platform is not only focused on the interdisciplinary training of cardiothoracic surgeons and related disciplines in sub-Saharan Africa but can support virtually any medical discipline on a white-label basis. The platform also allows for use by other disciplines.

The Frater Centre took part in a collaborative Wheels of Hope Outreach Project with Life Hope Rose Park Hospital in Bloemfontein and the Department of Paediatric Cardiology at the University of the Free State. The project focused on the prevalence rate of rheumatic heart disease in Grade 10 to 12 learners in Central South Africa. Rheumatic fever follows a throat infection by a group A streptococcus. Approximately one third of children develop carditis followed by progressive and permanent valvular lesions.


Prof Francis Smit, Head of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, has become only the third person from sub-Saharan Africa to be elected as a member of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS).


  1. Oxford Cell and Tissue Biobank, UK
  2. European Association of Tissue Banks
  3. Barcelona Tissue Bank, Spain
  4. Sorin, Medtronic, Edwards, St Jude scientific group, Johnson & Johnson
  5. Scientific Computing Group, Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany
  6. Universities as represented by:
  • Prof PM Dohmen, University of Rostock (Germany)
  • Prof C Mestres, University of Zurich, (Zurich, Austria)
  • Prof WLM Neethling, University of Western Australia, (Perth, Australia)
  • Prof C Yankah, Berlin Heart Centre, Charité University (Berlin, Germany)
  • Prof Peter Schultheiss, Charité University (Berlin Germany)
  • Prof J Vaage, University of Oslo, (Oslo, Norway)
  • Tim Jones, University of Birmingham (Birmingham, UK)
  • Prof Jose L Pomar, University of Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain)
  • Prof Marko Turina, Prof Emeritus, University of Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland)
  • Prof J Rafael Sadaba, University of Navarre (Navarre Spain)
  1. Prof PM Dohmen, University of Rostock, Germany
  2. Prof CA Mestres, Department of Cardiovascular Surgery, University Hospital of Zürich, Switzerland
  3. Prof WMJ Neethling, Admedus – VP Cardiovascular Technologies/University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
  4. Prof C Yankah, Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, German Heart Centre, Berlin, Germany
  5. Prof N Ntusi, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Read about the WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre and Prof Francis Smit in the media

Contact me

Prof Francis Smit
Head of Cardiothoracic Surgery
T: +27 51 405 3648
C: +27 82 774 1087


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