PhD graduate Chibuike Mbanefo’s pioneering journey in Biomedical Engineering

PhD graduate Chibuike Mbanefo's pioneering journey in Biomedical Engineering

[Graduation spotlight: Chibuike Mbanefo, PhD in Biomedical Engineerig]

The Faculty of Engineering at Stellenbosch University (SU) celebrates the remarkable achievements of Chibuike Mbanefo, a trailblazer in the field of Biomedical Engineering. He is making history as the first student to receive a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBE) at the December graduation of SU. The IBE hosts interdisciplinary postgraduate programmes aimed at biomedical engineering research and practice to help solve African healthcare challenges.

During his research journey, Chibuike has significantly contributed to advancing medical technologies and healthcare ecosystems. “My research is particularly relevant as healthcare platforms in Africa are still in the early stages of development. The work addresses current gaps and lays the foundation for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in healthcare to actively participate and innovate within emerging digital platforms. This promises to foster a more efficient and inclusive healthcare ecosystem,” he explains.

Chibuike’s academic journey began with a childhood dream of becoming a medical doctor and had a passion for numbers. His commitment to merging engineering principles with medicine led him to pursue a degree in Biomedical Technology, in which he graduated with an honour’s degree (cum laude) in 2018.

After graduating, he founded Med-Hill Biomedicals and Consultancy, an entrepreneurial venture that earned him a place in the prestigious 2019 Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Programme. The consultancy has also played a vital role in advancing medical technologies in the Anambra State in Nigeria, his birth country.

“This made me recognise the need for deeper knowledge, specifically in Biomedical Engineering. The catalyst for my journey to South Africa was the 2021 Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, which I was awarded,” he explains. His decisions to study at SU specifically was influenced by Prof Sara Grobbelaar from the Department of Industrial Engineering, who was involved in a collaborative research effort between SU and Imperial Logistics. “The resulting Imperial Stellenbosch University Collaboration Initiative (SUCI) provided a platform to identify industry needs, build knowledge, and develop solutions during my postgraduate studies,” he says.

He chose Prof Grobbelaar as his supervisor: “It was a perfect match based on her expertise in innovation for inclusive development and in particular healthcare.” Chief Researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Prof Adele Botha, was his industry-based co-supervisor. Under their supervision, Chibuike’s master’s degree swiftly evolved into a PhD. His research, titled “Healthcare Ecosystem Development: Exploring SME Participation and Innovative Engagement in Digital-based Platform Ecosystems, “focused on applying the platform ecosystem model in healthcare. Over three years, he developed a groundbreaking framework and management tool that empowers SMEs in healthcare to participate and engage in digital-based platform ecosystems.

“What a pleasure to work with Chibuike, he is so smart and so dedicated, he is the real deal. Chibuike’s PhD project took a big picture perspective on a complex phenomenon. It is not every PhD student who can synthesise ideas so well and get such a good result” says Prof Grobbelaar.

Chibuike says he is grateful for the support he received from the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, Imperial SUCI bursary, and Stellenbosch Postgraduate Scholarships. “These sponsorships played a crucial role in enabling me to complete my studies and make a lasting impact in the field of Biomedical Engineering,” he says.

He enjoys playing football, appreciates arts and literature, and has contributed to published writing pieces when he is not busy. His dedication to inspiring others is evident in his commitment to encouraging monthly reading—a testament to his belief in the power of knowledge dissemination.

Chibuike’s journey at SU exemplifies dedication, innovation, and a commitment to advancing healthcare technologies. His pioneering work breaks barriers in Biomedical Engineering and sets the stage for a more inclusive and technologically advanced healthcare landscape in Africa.

Photo: Dr Chibuike Mbanefo.