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NEWS FROM 2011 - 2015

Online Postgraduate Diploma in TB-HIV Management, a first for UCT
July 2015

The Desmond Tutu HIV Centre in the IDM, in partnership with ICAP at Columbia University and the University of Cape Town's Faculty of Health Sciences, is proud to announce the accreditation of their first, purely online, postgraduate qualification.

The Postgraduate Diploma in TB-HIV Management is aimed at equipping doctors and nurses with the life-saving skills necessary to treat HIV and TB infected patients at primary care level.

While many healthcare workers are interested in upgrading their skills/furthering their education, this is not always possible because of logistics. This online programme gives healthcare workers the opportunity to study at a time that suits them, from the comfort of their own homes.

The online diploma is beautifully designed, rich with interactive content that was developed by leading experts in the fields of TB and HIV medicine. While ensuring that the clinician is up to date with the latest South African guidelines, it also provides tools to conduct operational research in facilities and thus improve healthcare delivery systems from the ground up.

A generous grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, via ICAP Columbia University, provided the initial funding with a mandate to create online TB and HIV short-courses for rural doctors. After over five years of hard work, with many individuals contributing, four courses have collectively been accredited as an official postgraduate diploma through UCT, the first in the Faculty of Health Sciences that can be achieved online.

For further information please contact Melissa May: Melissa.Slabbert@hiv-research.org.za

Or visit the course overview on page 82 of the Faculty of Health Sciences Student Handbook

 

DTCH online course team

Back row left to right: Miss Melissa May (Academic facilitator), Ms Dawn Daniels (E-learning developer), Dr Shahra Sattar (Project leader)

Front row left to right: Ms Barbara Hutton (E-learning developer), Dr Shafiyah Coovadia (Lecturer) 

Absent: Dr Sabine Verkuijl (based in Belgium)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging Young Scientist & colleagues publish news on genital inflammation and HIV infections
June 2015

Highlighting another young scientist, our who's who in the IDM!

'Genital Inflammation and the Risk of HIV Acquisition in Women'
Lindi Masson, Jo-Ann Passmore, LJ Liebenberg et al., including C Williamson. (IDM)
Clinical Infectious Diseases (2015) 61(2):260-9

Lindi Masson

The authors concluded that elevated genital concentrations of HIV target cell-recruiting chemokines and a genital inflammatory profile contribute to the high risk of HIV acquisition in young African women. Their news was also headlined online with The Times 29th June "SA women most at risk of getting HIV".

The senior author Dr Linda Masson is an NRF Research Career Awardee & Lecturer based with the IDM in the Genital Mucosal & STI group, Division of Medical Virology in the Faculty. She is also partially funded by CIDRI & affiliated with CAPRISA at the University of KwaZulu Natal with whom she has worked in collaboration for a number of years. From 2012 to 2014 she was a Postdoctoral fellow with A/Prof Jo-Ann Passmore and also Dr Wendy Burgers, both Members of the IDM.

Dr Masson continues to work on identifying biomarkers of inflammation in the female genital tract, funded by an SA-MRC SHIP grant of which she is Co-PI with A/Professor Passmore.

 

Kenyan researcher wins prestigious international postdoctoral fellowship to work at IDM
Adapted from UCT Today's News 22 June 2015

Professor Clive Gray and Dr. Heather Jaspan, both members of the IDM and in the Division of Immunology, will soon host Dr Nadia Chanzu, a research scientist presently based at the Gertrude's Children's Hospital in Kenya. Dr Chanzu has won a two-year postdoctoral fellowship sponsored by the AXA Research Fund, to work in the IDM.  The AXA Research Fund seeks to contribute to a greater understanding and prevention of risk: Chanzu is the first African researcher at an African university to be awarded this highly competitive and prestigious fellowship!

Dr Chanzu says "My research aims to identify some of the altered immune mechanisms within the placentae of HIV-infected women, in comparison with those of HIV-negative mothers, to better understand the immune basis of pre-term births in HIV-positive women."

 

Another IDM Emerging Young Scientist shines with recent outstanding publication
June 2015

Highlighting another young scientist, a who's who in the IDM!

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2015) Online issue 15 June.
'High-dose Vitamin D3 reduces deficiency caused by low UVB exposure and limits HIV-1 replication in urban southern Africans '
Anna Coussens, Celeste Naude, Rene Goliath, George Chaplin, Robert J. Wilkinson and Nina G. Jablonski

(IDM colleagues, with collaborators from The Pennsylvania State University & Stellenbosch University). This paper was also highlighted on PennState News (http://news.psu.edu/).

Anna Coussens

The senior author Dr Anna Coussens is currently a Sydney Brenner Postdoctoral Fellow in CIDRI, IDM, hosted by Professor Robert Wilkinson, and will soon take up the position of Senior Lecturer in the Division of Medical Microbiology, although still based in the IDM. She was previously a postdoc at MRC NIMR in London (2008–2012), and completed her PhD at the Queensland University of Technology.

Dr Coussens's research is now focused on unravelling the cellular mechanisms controlling seasonal HIV replication; & an MDR-TB contact study identifying individuals with subclinical Mtb infection, to develop a biomarker of subclinical TB. She will be principally funded by an SA-MRC Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIP) award, as Co-Principal Investigator.

 

Professor Ed Sturrock new Department's HOD
11 June 2015, adapted from Faculty Daily News

Ed Sturrock

Our congratulations go to Professor Ed Sturrock, Member of the IDM, on his appointment as Head of Department (HOD) for the newly established Department of Integrated Biomedical Sciences (IBMS), comprising the Division of Computational Biology, the Division of Medical Biochemistry and Structural Biology, and the Division of Chemical and Systems Biology.

The establishment of IBMS, along with the Department of Pathology, is the result of a decision to split the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences (CLS) into two departments: the Department of Pathology, to house the traditional clinical pathology disciplines; and IBMS, to house the traditional biomedical sciences.  Former CLS HOD Prof Carolyn Williamson, also a Member of the IDM, will continue in her post as HOD, now of the Department of Pathology.

IBMS will provide the foundation teaching and training in basic biochemical sciences and computational biology to undergraduate students in the Faculty, and will build capacity in scarce skills in South Africa including bioinformatics and large data analysis, as well as in integrative and multidisciplinary molecular sciences. 

Prof Sturrock will continue his personal research interests in structure-function relationships of enzymes, in particular focussing on the two proteases Angiotensin Converting Enzyme, and Plasmepsin V.

 

New SARChI appointments for the IDM
June 2015
Graeme Meintjes

Associate Professor Graeme Meintjes has taken up his position as the NRF SARChI Chair of Lung Infection and Immunity in Poverty-Related Diseases, through the Department of Medicine at UCT.  A/Prof Meintjes remains based in CIDRI in the IDM. His research interests include HIV-associated tuberculosis, tuberculosis-associated immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (TB-IRIS), and Cryptococcal meningitis.


Stefan Barth

The IDM recently welcomed a new Member who is also an NRF SARChI appointee, Professor Dr. Dr. Stefan Barth, who holds the South African Research Chair in Cancer Biotechnology, based through the newly-formed Department of Integrated Biomedical Sciences. Prof Barth comes from the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen University, Germany, where he was University Professor of Experimental Medicine and Immunotherapy. His research foci include medical biotechnology, antibody technologies, protein engineering, immunodiagnostics, bioassay development & integration, immunotherapeutics, targeted human cytolytic fusion proteins, and SNAP-tag based fusion proteins.


Meintjes' and Barth's appointments bring to six the number of SARChI chairs associated with the IDM.

 

IDM scoops a significant number of SAMRC-NIH awards
June 2015

The IDM has been awarded 8 of the 26 awards to South Africans announced to date (31 in total), under the prestigious South Africa - U.S. Program for Collaborative Biomedical Research, a joint initiative of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

Grants are of two or five years' duration, with the South African partner scientists leading all projects. The projects are for basic or clinical research, targeting HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and HIV-related co-morbidities and cancers. The list of IDM recipients includes:

R01 awards for 2 years - Professor Carolyn Williamson, Professor Janet Hapgood, Associate Professor Jo-Ann Passmore with Dr Heather Jaspan as the US partner (paediatrician based in the IDM and also Seattle Children's Hospital, USA), and Associate Professor Helen McIlleron (IDM Affiliate Member).

R21 awards for 2 years - Dr Catherine Riou, Professor Clive Gray with Dr Heather Jaspan as the US partner, and Associate Professor Digby Warner.

U01 awards for 5 years – Associate Professor Digby Warner (his 2nd award under this call, an excellent achievement) and Professor Robert Wilkinson, CIDRI, IDM.

 

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker featured in the May 2015 issue of VAX
Linda-Gail Bekker

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, Co-Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre based in the IDM and of the Department of Medicine at UCT, has been featured in the May 2015 issue of VAX, the Bulletin on AIDS Vaccine Research, as one of five prominent women scientists from across the world who are making a difference in the fight against AIDS.  Prof Bekker Linda-Gail is the President-Elect of the International AIDS Society, and is the first woman from Africa to hold this position, which she will take up at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban in 2016.

For more information see: http://www.vaxreport.org/Back-Issues/Documents/VAX_0515.pdf

 

The members and staff of the IDM continue to be active in their social responsibilities. Research in local communities has recently been recognised as follows:

 

Fighting TB – South Africa's 'insidious epidemic'
Adapted from UCT Daily News 8 June 2015

Professor Mark Hatherill, Member of the IDM, is Director of the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) at UCT, the largest dedicated TB vaccine research group on the African continent. Their research includes a number of national and international partners and collaborators, including non-profit development partner and co-funder Aeras. They have built a system of trialling vaccines, based at SATVI's unit in Worcester and with the active participation of the local community.

Professor Helen McShane, of the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford, has been working with SATVI since 2005. Their partnership is now on its fifth trial together. The most recently completed trial involved some 3 000 babies in and around Worcester. McShane says: "Without the community's involvement, we simply couldn't test these vaccines. It is critical that the trials are conducted well, and to the appropriate ethical and regulatory standards. The reputation SATVI has built up over years within the Worcester community is invaluable in this regard."

See the YouTube video: http://www.uct.ac.za/dailynews/archives/?id=9185

 

Wellcome Trust international community engagement awards made to two TB projects
June 2015

The Wellcome Trust (WT) have given two awards in the last year under their international community engagement with health programme, to IDM projects that bridge the gap between the research community and the public.

Eh!Woza
Eh!Woza was started in 2013 in the IDM's Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit (MMRU), with funding from the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research (both led by Professor Valerie Mizrahi). PhD students based in the MMRU and co-supervised by Associate Professor Digby Warner, Anastasia Koch and Zanele Ditse, together with Olivia Carulei (supervised by Professor Anna-Lise Williamson, IDM member) and two South African artists (Ed Young and Herman de Klerk), established collaboration with Ikamva Youth. This NGO aims to empower youth through education.  The project aimed overall to engage young people in Khayelitsha with biomedical research, through workshops & illuminating films created by the young people themselves. The project was very successful.

An award was then received under the WT International Community Engagement Awards 2014 (further details http://www.idm.uct.ac.za/archives.htm#oldnews), as well as funds ring-fenced from the WT Senior Fellowship made to Professor Robert Wilkinson (Director CIDRI, IDM). The project continues into 2015, further attracting a three year community engagement grant from the National Research Foundation with Associate Professor Warner as principal investigator and collaborating with Dr Helen McDonald (UCT Anthropology; NRF Social Markers of TB Centre). Research under this expanded programme will now include a PhD anthropology student.

This is a significant achievement for these students and their artist colleagues, so much so that they were featured in the Wellcome Trust February 2015 newsletter, under the International Engagement Award section.

Wellcome Trust

Eh!WozaEh!Woza

Wellcome Trust re-awarded an international community engagement award to Dr Michele Tameris, Clinical Research Officer based at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) Worcester clinical site. Dr Tameris joined SATVI (part of the IDM) in August 2003 as a clinical researcher/investigator on TB vaccine clinical trials.

The overall objective of her community engagement programme is to engage Worcester-area residents through drama, visual art and performance for improved critical awareness and understanding of TB, clinical research and the rights and responsibilities of trial participants. Specifically they hope to, amongst others, inspire discussion and social change through interactive drama, and art, using street-theatre to raise awareness about TB.  A grand final street festival was also held over Easter 2015.

Measuring the impact of such a project is challenging. They use post-intervention focus groups, social media such as YouTube and Twitter, and short interviews of audience members/people exposed to street theatre. Through analysis of this qualitative data they hope to identify recurring themes and messages, which will be carefully considered in the design of future vaccine research within the community.  Postgraduate UCT Anthropology students, also supervised by Dr Helen McDonald (UCT Anthropology), will be involved in the research.

 

UCT Alan Pifer Award 2014 recognising contributions to the advancement and welfare of disadvantaged communities
Adapted from UCT Today's News 8 April 2015
Robin Wood & Linda-Gail Bekker

Emeritus Professor Robin Wood & Professor Linda-Gail Bekker are well-deserved recipients of the UCT Alan Pifer Award 2014 award. Professors Wood and Bekker are Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre (DTHC) based in the IDM, & the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF).

This annual Vice-Chancellor's award highlights UCT's strategic goal of promoting socially responsive research, and honours UCT researchers whose outreach work has contributed to the advancement and welfare of South Africa's disadvantaged people.

"Their work in the communities of Cape Town work [referring to that of Wood, Bekker and their colleagues at the DSTC and DSTF] has made a difference in the lives of countless South Africans, and their commitment to social justice and responsive research is commendable", said Vice Chancellor Max Price.

 

World TB day events held by CIDRI (in Khayelitsha) and SATVI (in Worcester)
March 2015

CIDRI World TB Day Event 

On 28 March 2015, representatives from the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) in the IDM held a World TB Day event at the Ubuntu Clinic in Khayelitsha. About 50 community members attended the event and a great discussion around TB and biomedical TB research was held.

Teenage learners who were part of the Eh!Woza project [see above] participated as youth representatives. HIV Voluntary Counselling and Testing was available on site, as was testing for TB. Khayelitsha has some of the highest TB rates in the world, and the event was successful in educating and engaging community members around TB and biomedical research being conducted within the community.

CIDRI World TB DayCIDRI World TB Day


South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) World TB Day Event

On World TB Day (24 March 2015), SATVI partnered with AERAS, a Global not for profit TB vaccine research group, to raise awareness about TB amongst primary and secondary school children in the Worcester area. The program, which was rolled out in four schools in Worcester area, teaches children about the signs and symptoms in a fun and interactive way, and reached about 5 000 children with its message.

SATVI also held a World TB Day program on Saturday 28 March 2015, in Worcester, organised in partnership with several government departments. About 2 000 people participated and Professor Marian Jacobs, retired Dean of the UCT Health Sciences Faculty, was the keynote speaker. The program for the day included a 3 km fun run, a kick TB soccer tournament (with 43 soccer teams, under 13, 15 & 17 leagues), indigenous games and health screening.

SATVI TB DaySATVI TB DaySATVI TB Day

 

YOUTUBE release involving IDM/UCT research

 'Plant vaccines'
A documentary on biofarming with Professor Ed Rybicki's Biopharming Research Unit prominently featured. Released on the SABC TV programme 50/50.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVyMIeA5Ewo&feature=youtu.be

 

IDM Emerging Young Scientists shine with recent publications
15 April 2015

A series of excellent journal publications have recently been published in which the first or senior author has been an IDM Emerging Young Scientist. Our congratulations to them (and their collaborators) and here's some information on each of the young scientists, a who's who in the IDM!

 


The Lancet Respiratory Medicine (2015) 3(3):190-200
'Safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy of the candidate tuberculosis vaccine MVA85A in healthy adults infected with HIV-1: a randomised, placebo-controlled, phase 2 trial'.
Ndiaye BP, Thienemann F, Ota M, Landry BS, Camara M, Dièye S, Dieye TN, Esmail H, Goliath R, Huygen K, January V, Ndiaye I, Oni T, Raine M, Romano M, Satti I, Sutton S, Thiam A, Wilkinson KA, Mboup S, Wilkinson RJ, McShane H; MVA85A 030 trial investigators. (IDM colleagues)

Friedrich Thienemann

This landmark study was led by Professor Robert Wilkinson, Dr Friedrich Thienemann and the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) team, as well as their international collaborators, led by Professor Helen McShane from the University of Oxford. HIV-1 infection is associated with increased risk of tuberculosis and a safe and effective vaccine would assist control measures. Between 2011 and 2013 they assessed, through 650 participants, a candidate tuberculosis vaccine in adults infected with HIV-1. This is the first time that a candidate tuberculosis vaccine has been assessed for efficacy against Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection in people infected with HIV-1. The results show that vaccinating adults infected with HIV-1 with MVA85A is safe, but does not confer protection against infection with M. tuberculosis. [more details in a previous web news article]

Dr. Thienemann joined CIDRI five years ago from Charité, Germany, one of the largest university hospitals in Europe and a joint institution of Freie & Humboldt Universities. He is a physician, and is now leading a new vaccine trial in Khayelitsha, Cape Town on multiple drug resistant TB, funded by EDCTP and SAMRC SHIP grants.

 


Chemistry and Biology (2015) 22(1):63-75
'The complex mechanism of antimycobacterial action of 5-Fluorouracil'
Singh V, Brecik M, Mukherjee R, Evans JC, Svetlíková Z, Blaško J, Surade S, Blackburn J, Warner DF, Mikušová K, Mizrahi V.   (IDM colleagues)

Vinayak Singh

A combination of chemical, genetic and biochemical assays found the anticancer drug 5-FUkills Mtb by targeting multiple complex pathways.

Dr. Vinayak Singh is a Postdoctoral Fellow working with Professor Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the IDM, in the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit. He came to the IDM in May 2011 from the CSIR-Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, India, specifically to work on the multinational project 'More Medicines for Tuberculosis' (MM4TB).

 


Cell Host & Microbe (2015) 17:252–259
'The C-Type Lectin Receptor CLECSF8/CLEC4D is a key component of anti-mycobacterial immunity'
G. Wilson et al., including C. Hoving (senior author), J Marakalala, R. Keeton, M. Jacobs
& Gordon Brown (corresponding author; IDM Adjunct Member).  (IDM colleagues)

Claire HovingThe authors show the C-type lectin receptor, critical in anti-microbial host defense, is required for mycobacterial recognition by leukocytes; its loss results in higher mycobacterial burdens & increased mortality; and CLECSF8  polymorphism in humans is associated with susceptibility to TB.

Dr. Claire Hoving holds an NRF Research Career Development award within the Division of Immunology in the IDM, with Professor Gordon Brown (Adjunct Member of the IDM & Professor of Immunology, University of Aberdeen, UK) and A/Professor Muazzam Jacobs (Member of the IDM and in the Division of Immunology, UCT) as her hosts. A previous Carnegie Corporation Postdoctoral Fellow in the IDM, her research is currently funded by CIDRI and focuses on the innate immune response in tuberculosis and opportunistic fungal infections.

 


PLoS Pathogens (2015) 11(1):e1004636
'The M3 muscarinic receptor is required for optimal adaptive immunity to helminth & bacterial infection'
M Darby, C Schnoeller, A Vira, F Culley, S Bobat, E Logan, F Kirstein, J Wess, A Cunningham, F Brombacher, M Selkirk, W Horsnell.   (IDM colleagues)

William HorsnellThe authors  show conclusively here that cholinergic signalling through the M3R is a major contributor to immunity to parasitic and bacterial infection, and that in its absence CD4 T cell responses are significantly impaired. The data suggest that there may be potential for the development of drugs aimed at enhancing immune function for immunoprophylaxis or other applications.

Dr William Horsnell, an Associate Member of the IDM and in the Division of Immunology, joined UCT twelve years ago from the UK. He has a PhD from the University of London, and was previously a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Liverpool. His research interests include host immunity to helminths and how this affects immune responses to unrelated diseases; and the role of neurotransmitters in immune regulation. His principal sources of funding are the National Research Foundation, Royal Society, Sir Halley Stewart Trust and the World University Network.

 


Eurosurveillance (2015) 20(12):pii=21073; and highlighted by The Guardian, UK.
'Evaluation of a point-of-care blood test for identification of Ebola virus disease at Ebola holding units, Western Area, Sierra Leone, January to February 2015'
Walker NF et al.

Naomi Walker

The authors evaluated the accuracy of a rapid diagnostic test for Ebola compared with the usual test, in an operational setting.

Lack of laboratory diagnostic capacity has led to diagnostic delays in the current West African EVD outbreak of 2014 and 2015, compromising outbreak control. The authors evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of the EVD bedside rapid diagnostic antigen test (RDT) developed by the United Kingdom's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, compared with Ebola virus RT-PCR, in an operational setting, Sierra Leone. Results were positive. If approved by health authorities, the kit will transform the admissions process with its capacity to deliver results within 20 minutes compared to the usual 24 hours.

Dr. Naomi Walker is appointed as an Honorary Research Associate in CIDRI until 2017, and is the recipient of a Wellcome Trust Research Training Fellowship. She is currently an Infectious Diseases Physician in training, completing a PhD with Professor Robert Wilkinson (Director of CIDRI, UCT supervisor) and with Dr. Paul Elkington, Imperial College London (co-supervisor).

 

World TB Day 24 March
'Good Doctors, Good Trials: PredArt TB-IRIS clinical trial'
Graeme Meintjes

In commemoration of World TB Day 24 March 2015, a short video on the PredArt TB-IRIS clinical trial being conducted by A/Professor Graeme Meintjes and colleagues has been released as part of the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) presentation to the European parliament. A/Professor Meintjes is based in CIDRI, is a Member of the IDM, and is of the Department of Medicine at UCT.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvnxfpWBsFU&feature=youtu.be

The PredArt study is being conducted in the HIV-TB clinic in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, where the incidence of TB and HIV is very high. EDCTP and the Department of Science and Technology, South Africa, are the principal funders.

 

 

Robert Wilkinson awarded A1 rating from the NRF
13 March 2015
Robert Wilkinson

Our congratulations are extended to Professor Robert J Wilkinson, Director of the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI), Full Member of the IDM and Honorary Professor in the Department of Medicine, UCT, who has been awarded an A1 rating by the National Research Foundation.

Professor Wilkinson is also a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow in Clinical Tropical Medicine, an MRC Programme Leader at the National Institute for Medical Research London, Professor in Infectious Diseases, Imperial College London, and is seconded to UCT.

The NRF grants an A1 rating to a researcher who is "recognised by all reviewers as a leading scholar in his/her field internationally for the high quality and wide impact (i.e. beyond a narrow field of specialisation) of his/her recent outputs". An A1 rating is thus a rare honour, reserved for the most distinguished researchers.

In addition to Robert's exceptional achievements in research, he has made a very significant contribution to research capacity development at UCT, as director of CIDRI (for further information on CIDRI, go to www.cidri.uct.ac.za).

 

Robert Wilkinson, Friedrich Thienemann, the CIDRI team & international collaborators publish landmark candidate TB vaccine study
13 March 2015
(Text from original article:
http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(15)00037-5/fulltext )

The results of a randomised, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial assessing the safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy of the candidate TB vaccine, MVA85A, in healthy adults infected with HIV-1, were recently published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. This landmark study was led by Professor Robert Wilkinson, Dr Friedrich Thienemann and the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) team, as well as their international collaborators, led by Professor Helen McShane from the University of Oxford.

HIV-1 infection is associated with increased risk of tuberculosis and a safe and effective vaccine would assist control measures. They assessed the safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy of a candidate tuberculosis vaccine, modified vaccinia virus Ankara expressing antigen 85A (MVA85A), in adults infected with HIV-1.

This is the first time that a candidate tuberculosis vaccine has been assessed for efficacy against Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection in people infected with HIV-1. The results show that vaccinating adults infected with HIV-1 with MVA85A is safe, but does not confer protection against infection with M. tuberculosis.

Implications of all the available evidence:

Safety of MVA85A in this large study population of adults with HIV infection is an important finding for tuberculosis vaccine development. The vector is safe to give to people without HIV testing; with the safety data providing some generic reassurance that new candidate tuberculosis vaccines are safe in this higher risk population. Additionally, this study has shown that high-quality, multicentre tuberculosis vaccine trials in vulnerable populations are possible.

The absence of efficacy despite immunogenicity in this and previous clinical trials of MVA85A suggests that the current parameters for selection of tuberculosis vaccine candidates are inadequate. Standardised preclinical animal models that better represent human infection and of candidate vaccines direct to the respiratory mucosa, merit assessment. Other lessons learnt from this trial include the characterisation of the epidemiology of M tuberculosis infection and disease associated with HIV-1 infection in a setting of antiretroviral therapy and isoniazid chemoprophylaxis.

 

NIH-Sponsored HIV Vaccine Trial Launches in South Africa
13 March 2015
(Text and picture from original NIH press release)

The HVTN 100 study, investigating an HIV vaccine regimen for safety and the immune responses it generates in study participants, has been launched in Cape Town and Soweto. Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, Deputy Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, Full Member of the IDM, and Professor in Department of Medicine, UCT, is serving as protocol co-chair, with Dr Fatima Laher, Director of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, also heading the trial.

The original article announcing the news, published by NIH News, is available here:
http://www.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2015/Pages/HVTN100.aspx

The HVTN 100 vaccine regimen was designed to provide greater protection than the earlier RV144 regimen tested in Thailand, the first study to demonstrate that a vaccine can protect people from HIV infection. The HVTH 100 vaccine regimen has been adapted to the HIV subtype that predominates in southern Africa. The results of the trial, expected in two years, will help determine whether or not this vaccine regimen will be tested for efficacy in a large future study in South Africa.

Linda-Gail Bekker

Linda-Gail Bekker
DTHC researchers

HVTN laboratory staff Nomzamo Tabata (left)
and Owethu Mahali process specimens at the
Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa
Credit: Brooke Auchincloss
Lynette Denny & colleagues awarded SAMRC/UCT Gynaecological Cancer Research Centre
Adapted from MRC media announcement, 9 February 2015

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has partnered with three of the country's major universities (Universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand and KwaZulu Natal), to establish cancer centres, investing more than R37 million over the next five years.

The SAMRC is dedicated to exploring medical research in the hope of reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases such as cancer," says President of the SAMRC Professor Glenda Gray. "We currently have an exceptional unit that focuses solely on non-communicable diseases but the rapid rise in the number of cancer-related deaths in South Africa in the last few years has urged us to further investigate the disease in a South African context."

Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UCT Professor Lynette Denny will head the SAMRC/UCT Gynaecological Cancer Research Centre. Colleagues involved include Professor Anna-Lise Williamson, Professor Ed Rybicki, and A/Prof Jo-Ann Passmore (Members of the IDM), as well as other UCT colleagues Prof Jennifer Moodley, Dr Leon van Wijk and Dr Hue-Tsi Wu.

 

Dr William Horsnell awarded World University Network (WUN) funds
Adapted from UCT's Today's News 29 January 2015

Around a billion people living in the developing regions of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Americas are infected with at least one type of parasitic worm - hookworms, roundworms or tapeworms [helminths]. They have probably co-evolved with man, and so have helped define how our immune systems function. However our relationship with these worms is poorly understood and far from straightforward.

On the one hand, helminths are disease-causing pathogens that directly contribute to significant illness, suffering and death in the developing world.

On the other, immunological studies have found a range of potentially positive effects of helminth infections, including protecting against diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and respiratory disease. Dr William Horsnell, of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) and Division of Immunology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, and colleagues are focusing on unravelling the complex effects of helminth infections on human health.

Might helminths help you breathe?

Horsnell's collaborative study RHINESSA (Respiratory Health in Northern Europe, Spain and Australia) has recently received World University Network (WUN) funds to explore the possible positive effects of helminth infections on allergy.

Collaborators include Prof Cecilie Svanes (University of Bergen), Prof Vivi Schlunssen (Aarhus University) and Prof Rain Jogi (Tartu University), amongst others. They have been examining trans-generational effects on respiratory health in a study group which has data and samples from as far back as 1940. A key outcome has been the high correlation between individuals who grew up on farms, with low levels of allergy. This correlation may be related to increased exposure to helminth infections. (Read more about the WUN collaboration on the University of Bergen's web page)

 

Horsnell group

The research team in the laboratory. From left to right:
Dr William Horsnell, Jennifer Auret, Matthew Darby, Alisha Chetty and Erin Logan.

 

Helminths: a vaccination saboteur?

A recent study* led by Dr Horsnell and Professor Adam Cunningham of the University of Birmingham, UK, has shown that exposure to helminths led to a strikingly reduced control of non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) infection, and also reduced the efficacy of a new vaccine candidate against these bacteria. NTS is a devastating disease that kills tens of thousands of children every year in sub-Saharan Africa. At this stage, no licensed vaccine exists for NTS: understanding how new vaccines against the infection may work is therefore an important research question.

Bobat, Cunningham and Horsnell have shown in their study that a helminth infection can have a dramatic effect on both the ability of the host to control an unrelated infection, and on the chances of a vaccine against that infection working. Children receiving their usual vaccinations – at or before school – are also most likely to be infected with parasitic worms.

* Bobat S, Darby M, Mrdjen D, Cook C, Logan E, et al. (2014) Natural and Vaccine-Mediated Immunity to Salmonella Typhimurium is Impaired by the Helminth Nippostrongylus brasiliensis. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 8(12): e3341

 

Emavundleni profiled in The Lancet

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker and her team at their Emavundleni ("Ema") clinical research centre were recently profiled in The Lancet. The Ema is in Cape Town's New Crossroads township, and is one of four clinical research sites within the UCTCTU, a Clinical Trials Unit funded by the NIH. Prof Bekker is Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre based in the IDM, & of the Department of Medicine UCT. Read the full article here: www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2814%2962266-2/fulltext

 

Soft Funded Academic and Research Staff (SFARS) Awards recipients announced
(adapted from Faculty of Health Sciences Newsletter December 2014)

Recipients of the University of Cape Town's Soft-Funded Academic and Research Staff Awards (SFARS) were recently announced in recognition of outstanding research conducted by soft-funded staff. The award is intended to contribute to salary support for awardees for a year. Among the recipients were Associate Professor Mark Hatherill, Director of IDM's South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI). Our congratulations to A/Prof Hatherill.

 

VACFA holds very successful (10th) Annual African Vaccinology Course

For the 10th consecutive year, the University of Cape Town's Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA, based in the IDM) has successfully hosted the Annual African Vaccinology Course at the Upper East Side Hotel, Woodstock, Cape Town. Under the leadership of Prof Gregory Hussey, Director of VACFA and Member of the IDM, and with generous funding from GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, MSD Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi Pasteur and Pfizer, the course provides a unique opportunity for researchers, medical practitioners and public health administrators wishing to gain detailed insight and knowledge about vaccinology and challenges in the uptake of vaccines on the continent.

The 2014 course had 67 participants from 23 different African countries participating. Since inception, the course has trained over 800 participants from almost all African countries. The Vaccinology course is intended to benefit vaccinology programme managers, doctors involved in vaccination programs as well as basic scientists involved in vaccines research within the African continent.

The particular aims of the 2014 Vaccinology Course were to provide participants with essential expertise to support national immunisation programmes, build sustainable research capacity for vaccine development and conducting high quality phase 1-lV vaccine trials in Africa, and foster communication and networking among African vaccinologists.

The course was presented by local and international experts in the field of vaccinology and immunology - from academia, industry and private practice. The participants were overwhelmingly positive in their feedback on the contents and structure of the training.

 

VACFA course

VACFA course VACFA course

 

A boost for child respiratory health
Adapted from UCT's Today's News 8 December 2014
Heather Zar

Professor Heather Zar, head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Director of the School of Child and Adolescent Health, and Affiliate Member of the IDM, has been awarded a Medical Research Council (MRC) Extramural Research Unit. This award allows her to develop her research on childhood respiratory disease even further, and consists of R1-million a year for five years, with the potential for renewal for an additional two five-year cycles.
The award will be used to build a strategic framework to bring together current research projects undertaken by Zar and her team. These include the Drakenstein Child Lung Health Study, with colleague Professor Mark Nicol, HOD of Medical Microbiology and Member of the IDM. It is a birth cohort study that investigates the incidence, cause, risk factors and outcome of pneumonia in early childhood, as well as the intersection of early respiratory infection and development of chronic non-communicable disease later in childhood; research on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-related respiratory disease in children and adolescents; and better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent childhood tuberculosis (TB).

Globally around 1 million children under five years of age die from respiratory illness each year; and most deaths occur in the first year of life.

 

HIV conundrum continues but Africa is making progress
Adapted from UCT Faculty news article 4 December 2014

World AIDS Day was on 1 December 2014. Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, new president-elect of the International AIDS Society (IAS) and Deputy Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre based in the IDM, says the fight against HIV/AIDS is far from over. "There is always work to be done on stigma, human rights and justice in healthcare and public health. HIV/AIDS needs constant surveillance and advocacy. We now have interventions we can implement. It would be a travesty if people lost interest at this point, and as a result, resources and human capital disappeared just when we really do need all hands on deck." she says.

Prof Bekker will start her tenure at the IAS in 2016. She is keen to highlight progress made in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention on the continent. "Our challenges are how to ensure that some of the innovations in the field are scaled up in such a way that they really do begin to turn the curve on the epidemic – not only internationally but also here in Southern and East Africa where the brunt of the burden is," she says.

Prof Bekker and her phenomenal team at Emavundleni ("Ema") site of the DTHC and DTHF were also profiled in the 29 November issue of The Lancet.  The Ema CRS, led by Surita Roux, is one of four clinical research sites within UCTCTU, a Clinical Trials Unit funded by the NIH and directed by Linda-Gail. You can read the article at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2814%2962266-2/fulltext

 

New 600MHz NMR spectrometer takes drug discovery to new level
Adapted from UCT's Today's news 20 November 2014

UCT will compete among the world's top institutions in drug discovery, one of the university's research signature themes, thanks to a powerful new 600MHz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, coupled to an ultra-sensitive cold probe. It was awarded to Professor Kelly Chibale, Director, UCT Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) and Member of the IDM.

The 600MHz with the cold probe is the only facility of its kind in Africa, and one of very few in the world.

Kelly Chibale

Professor Kelly Chibale, and NRF's Drs Linda Mtwisha & Gansen Pillay

 

Ebola commentary on News24

Clive Gray on News24

News24 interviewed Prof Clive Gray, Head of Division of Immunology, Member of the IDM, & African representative on International Union of Immunology Societies (IUIS), to shed light on the recent Ebola outbreak.  There are 4 short video clips of the interview, available at: http://www.health.uct.ac.za/.

Are Biologics (drugs that can be created by genetically re-engineering plants, or plant viruses, to produce vaccines and antibodies) the answer to the Ebola crisis?  Professor Ed Rybicki of the IDM, and UCT's Biopharming Research Unit discusses this in a recent TEDxCapeTown talk.

 

EU Commissioner & SA Minister (S&T) visit CIDRI & the DTHF Youth Centre

On World AIDS Day (December 1st), a high-level delegation from the European Union and European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), launched Phase 2 of the EDCTP, funding which supports some of the research at CIDRI and the DTHC.

As part of the launch, Commissioner Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, and his delegation were hosted by Professor Robert Wilkinson [Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow in Clinical Tropical Medicine, Director of the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) and Professor in Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London], as well as Associate Professor Graeme Meintjes and members of the CIDRI team, at CIDRI's clinical research site in Khayelitsha. This event was used as an opportunity to showcase the important work that CIDRI is doing to tackle HIV-associated TB.

The CIDRI visit was also highlighted on the website of the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI), Imperial College London: http://imperialighi.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/tackling-hiv-associated-tuberculosis-this-world-aids-day/#more-181

The same delegation then visited the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) Youth Centre in Masiphumelele south of Cape Town, accompanied this time by the Minister of Science & Technology Dr Naledi Pandor. They were hosted by Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, Deputy Director of the DTHF and DTHCentre (research arm), and member of the IDM. DTHC's previous EDCTP grant (2009-2012) had initiated a program in adolescent health and HIV prevention. The Youth Centre caters for youth aged 12 – 22 and offers a range of holistic development programmes, including a clinic that provides sexual and reproductive health services.

EDCTP visit

EU Commissioner Carlos Moedas with CIDRI colleagues in Khayelitsha

 

Graeme Meintjes & EU CommissionerMinister Pandor

Left: Associate Professor Graeme Meintjes (CIDRI) and the EU Commissioner

Right: Professor Linda-Gail Bekker (DTHC) and Minister Naledi Pandor in Masiphumelele (with Faculty of Health Sciences Deputy Dean Research, Associate Professor Tania Douglas, in the background).

 

UCT Vaccines course increasingly popular on African continent
Adapted from UCT Faculty news article 4 Dec 2014
VACFAGreg Hussey

For the 10th consecutive year, the Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA; based in the IDM) has successfully hosted the annual African Vaccinology Course. Under the leadership of Professor Gregory Hussey, Director of VACFA, and with generous funding from GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, MSD Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi Pasteur and Pfizer, the course provides a unique opportunity for researchers, medical practitioners and public health administrators wishing to gain detailed insight into vaccinology, and challenges in the uptake of vaccines on the continent.

VACFA's vision is an Africa free of vaccine-preventable diseases. "The course has become very popular, with a total of 67 participants from 23 different African countries participating in this year's 2014 course," said Prof Hussey. Since inception, the course has trained over 800 participants from almost all African countries.

 

IDM's journal publications continue to impress

Recent leading research & commentary papers include the following by IDM Members and their co-authors:

  • In an important new paper published in the most recent issue of PLoS Medicine, Dr Helen Cox as lead author, Associate Professor Mark Nicol and colleagues describe the outcome of a pragmatic randomised trial to assess the impact of Xpert MTB/RIF for diagnosis of patients with presumptive TB, in a primary care clinic in Khayelitsha. This paper is highlighted as the lead publication on the PLoS Medicine website - http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine
  • The current Genome Biology (JIF 10.5) homepage features two articles – and four authors – from the IDM under 'Editor's Pick':
    # Translating genomics research into control of tuberculosis: lessons learned and future prospects, Associate Professor Digby Warner & Professor Valerie Mizrahi (Director, IDM)
    # The road to drug resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Anastasia Koch & Professor Robert Wilkinson (Director, CIDRI; and both of the IDM)
  • Associate Professor Digby Warner, Anastasia Koch and Professor Valerie Mizrahi have just published "Diversity and disease pathogenesis in Mycobacterium tuberculosis" in Trends in Microbiology [2014 Nov 10. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2014.10.005. Epub ahead of print].
  • Professor Raj Ramesar had a commentary entitled "Genomics: African dawn", in Nature 2014 doi: 10.1038/nature14077.
  • "Genome sequence of the tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans): Vector of African trypanosomiasis" was published by J. Watanabe, et al. including Professor Nicola Mulder of the IDM (Science 344 (6182), 2014, 380-386). The genome data produced provide a foundation for research into trypanosomiasis prevention and yield important insights with broad implications for multiple aspects of tsetse biology.

 

IDM members made Royal Society of South Africa Fellows
November 2014

Special congratulations to IDM Members Professor Robin Wood (Director, Desmond Tutu HIV Centre in the IDM) & Professor Carolyn Williamson (HOD, Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences), and Professor Dan Stein, Affiliate Member and of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health. They are seen here at their recent induction as Royal Society Fellows.

Further congratulations to Professor Linda-Gail Bekker (also of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre and Department of Medicine) on her very recent election into Fellowship of the Royal Society of South Africa.

Royal Society FellowsLinda-Gail Bekker

 

 

Two IDM publications listed in latest edition of Genome Biology's Editor's Picks
November 2014

The current Genome Biology homepage (http://genomebiology.com) features two articles – and four authors – from the IDM under Editor's Picks:

* The road to drug resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Genome Biology 2014, 15:520
Anastasia Koch (IDM PhD student) and Professor Robert Wilkinson (Director, CIDRI in the IDM & of Department of Medicine).

* Translating genomics research into control of tuberculosis: lessons learned and future prospects. Genome Biology 2014, 15:514.
Associate Professor Digby Warner (MMRU) and Professor Valerie Mizrahi (Director IDM), both also of the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences.

 

TB and HIV researcher gets high praise from SA science academy
Adapted from UCT's Today's News 6 November 2014
Keren Middelkoop

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), on behalf of the African Union (AU) Commission, The World Academy of Science (TWAS) and the Department of Science and Technology, presented Dr Keren Middelkoop, an IDM Hasso Plattner Fellowship awardee based in the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre (DTHC), with the AU-TWAS Young Scientist in South Africa award in the Life and Earth Sciences category.

Describing herself as a "clinician with an interest in public health and epidemiological research", Middelkoop's research focuses on the TB and HIV epidemics (and epidemic interactions) at a community level. "Winning an award like this is very encouraging. The recognition that [one's] work is relevant and, more importantly making a difference helps to rejuvenate one's efforts," Middelkoop said.

Middelkoop was nominated for the award by Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, Deputy Director of the DTHC and Member of the IDM. In her motivation Bekker highlighted that Middelkoop's key strength "is the ability to provide a link between the laboratory and clinical worlds: combining her clinical background, extensive research experience, public health training, and good grasp of the laboratory component of molecular epidemiology to help meld the disciplines to provide a comprehensive approach to these dual public health problems".

Prior to winning this national award, Middelkoop won the 2010 UCT Best Publication in Public Health prize and the Ethne Jacke Prize for the best Master of Public Health dissertation in 2013. She was also the 2011 International Union against TB and Lung Disease's Young Investigator of the Year.

 

IDM's Ten-Year Anniversary Symposium showcases its diversified cutting-edge research in infectious diseases and molecular medicine

IDM's Ten-Year Anniversary Symposium 2-4 November 2014 was held under the banner of "Driving Research for Human Health in Africa". This was a celebratory Symposium – 10 years of growth since the IDM's official opening, with the IDM now commanding world class track records in various focus areas.

The Symposium Programme clearly demonstrated the IDM's rich capacity and thematic strengths. Speakers included IDM Members plus selected UCT academics affiliated to the IDM, and a number of international and national speakers, all of whom collaborated in some way with IDM researchers and who added depth to topics discussed.

The opening afternoon included the 3rd Annual Wolfson Memorial Lecture, presented by Prof Mark Davis of Stanford University, USA (more details below). In introducing the event, UCT's Faculty of Health Sciences Dean Prof Wim de Villiers noted that in 2014/2015, UCT was ranked 48 of all "clinical, pre-clinical and health" universities globally, in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. "Research and internationalisation are strong influencers of ranking, so the IDM plays a significant role in UCT's international recognition."

VC, Dean & Naledi Pandor Val Mizrahi

Dr Max Price, Prof Wim de Villiers
Minister Dr Naledi Pandor

Prof Valerie Mizrahi

 

The Minister of Science and Technology Dr Naledi Pandor and the South African Medical Research Council President Prof Glenda Gray added significance to the occasion, informing the audience of future support and possible directions of medical and scientific research and capacity development in South Africa. They both acknowledged the valuable role that the IDM played in research into, in particular, HIV/AIDS/HPV and TB.

Opening the event, UCT Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price described the IDM as a "pathbreaker", noting its great success in infectious diseases research in particular, making it a partner of choice for institutes and funders worldwide. "The bar has been raised through the 10-year IDM history for the country and for the Global South." Prof Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the IDM, then gave some research highlights exemplifying why this was so, and the opportunities which lay ahead.

The opening ended with a cocktail party where plaques for Emeritus Professor Wieland Gevers (founding interim IDM Director) and Professor Gregory Hussey (IDM's first Director) were unveiled in the IDM'S Wolfson Pavilion foyer, acknowledging their pivotal roles in the development of the IDM to where it is today. The Sizophila Choir of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre based in the IDM provided entertainment to those attending.

The Symposium itself was widely covered in the media – to view the eNCA insert, please click here

 

Sizophila Choir International students

Sizophila Choir (DTHC, IDM)

UCT international PhD students

 

Gordon & Ed Ramesar et al

Prof Gordon Brown (University of Aberdeen,UK),
Prof Bongani Mayosi (UCT) and
Prof Ed Sturrock (IDM, UCT)

Prof Raj Ramesar (IDM, UCT),
Mrs Pillay, Prof Deenan Pillay (UKZN)
and Dr Charles Rotimi (NIH, USA)

 

Mark Davis, Stanford University, presents Wolfson Memorial Lecture at IDM Symposium
adapted from UCT's Today's News 5 November 2014
Mark Davis

Some of the deep complexities of our immune system, once seen as a "black box" in medicine, have been demystified, but we need new approaches to reveal all its mysteries, says renowned Stanford University immunologist Professor Mark Davis, Director of Stanford University's Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection.

Delivering the Wolfson Memorial Lecture at the opening of the IDM's Ten-Year Anniversary Symposium on 2 November 2014, Davis said researchers have lifted the lid on the immune system in the past 50 years, but discoveries in basic immunology have led to few improvements in human health.

New approaches to human immunology in health and disease were needed. In a seminal study, Davis and his team waded through blood-bank blood from adult donors and newborn babies and "surprisingly" found anti-HIV memory cells in people who were HIV negative, and antibodies for bird flu in people who had never had bird flu. This casts doubt on previously held dogma that the body builds a memory of a pathogen or bug and develops an enhanced ability to fight the bug once it has been exposed to it or to components of it in a vaccine.

 

IDM members scoop SA MRC awards for excellence in scientific achievement

Our congratulations to the following IDM Members who all received awards at the recent South African Medical Research Council awards ceremony.

MRC awards

 

Special congratulations on the awards of Platinum Medals for lifetime outstanding scientific achievements which went to Professor Gregory Hussey, Director of Vaccines for Africa (VACFA) and of the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences,  and Professor Robin Wood, Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre in the IDM and of the Department of Medicine.

 

Tom Scriba

 

 

Awards for Substantial contributions to science or capacity building in medical research in South Africa went to Associate Professor Tom Scriba, of the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) in the IDM and of the Department of Paediatrics; and Associate Professor Helen McIlleron of the Division of  Clinical Pharmacology [affiliate member of the IDM]

 

Warner & Mizrahi publish an editorial in New England Journal of Medicine
Digby WarnerVal Mizrahi

Dr Digby Warner (Associate Member of the IDM) and Professor Valerie Mizrahi (Director of IDM) have published an editorial in the latest (October 23) edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. They are both from the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit, IDM, and Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at UCT.

Shortening Treatment for Tuberculosis — Back to Basics reflects that, "although the urgency of the medical need may justify additional clinical trials of experimental tuberculosis drugs and drug regimens, there must be a considerable increase in investment in fundamental research if we are to develop and validate correlates of durable cure." As the three trials reported on in the same journal edition have confirmed, "our understanding of the science underlying positive clinical outcomes remains rudimentary. It's time to go back to basics".

N Engl J Med 371;17. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMe1410977
Copy of the editorial is found here

 

Nicky Mulder lauded by SA Parliament for her Thomson Reuters ranking

More on the Thomson Reuters 'World's Most Influential Scientific Minds 2014' below »

In a publication by Thomson Reuters called 'The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds 2014', highly cited researchers have been acknowledged as leading their respective research fields. Associate Professor Nicola Mulder, head of Computational Biology in the IDM, has been listed as one of these. More details are recorded below.

This feat was also acknowledged in South Africa at the 2nd September 2014 Parliamentary National Assembly, where the Speaker lauded a motion noting that six South African scientists had been ranked by Thomson Reuters "to be amongst the top 3,200 most influential researchers on earth".

Congratulations A/Professor Mulder!

 

UCT and Canadian biopharming group to develop HPV vaccine
Adapted from UCT Today's news, 15 October 2014
hpv

UCT's Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) led by IDM member Professor Ed Rybicki has joined forces with Canada-based biopharmaceutical company Medicago to develop a vaccine against human papillomaviruses (HPV), the cause of cervical cancer.  The vaccine will be produced in plants.

Medicago's earlier successes include candidate vaccines against influenza viruses, while the BRU has been at the forefront of HPV vaccine and plant-produced therapeutic research for the past 10 years. The Canadian organisation is providing funding and some materials for the research, while the BRU will provide the expertise to develop and produce the virus-like particles that will be used as vaccines against HPV.

The BRU has been perfecting their process for years and was the first group worldwide to produce significant amounts of HPV protein in plants, Rybicki added. Aside from HPV, the group has also worked on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), avian and human influenza, as well as animal viruses such as bluetongue virus, and beak and feather disease virus.

Marc-André D'Aoust, vice-president of research and innovation at Medicago said: "This collaboration has the potential to bring forth novel vaccine solutions against human papillomaviruses that provide improved protection from the wide variety of circulating virus strains."

In 2012, Medicago demonstrated its capability to use plants efficiently by producing 10 million doses of pandemic influenza vaccine in a month for the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Graphic of the human papillomavirus, the cause of cervical cancer, by Russell Kightley Media, based in Canberra, Australia

 

CONGRATULATIONS to Dr Leigh Johnson
October 2014
Leigh Johnson

Dr Johnson has won the prestigious 2014 UCT College of Fellows Young Researcher Award

He is an IDM Hasso Plattner Fellow based in the Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology & Research (CIDER) at UCT. His research involves infectious disease modelling.

 

Congratulations to Professor Gregory Hussey
August 2014
Gregory Hussey

Professor Gregory Hussey, Director of VACFA and member of the IDM, has been elected to the UCT College of Fellows. The Fellowship of the UCT College is a rare distinction awarded to members of the UCT academic staff in recognition of "original, distinguished academic work".

Dr Krishnamoorthy Gopinath awarded best publication (Basic Laboratory Sciences)
August 2014
Krishnamoorthy Gopinath Dr Krishnamoorthy Gopinath was until recently a Postdoctoral fellow based in the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit [MMRU] at the IDM. He has been awarded the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences Prize for Best Publication (Basic Laboratory Sciences) in 2013 by a Young Investigator.

The paper is:
"A vitamin B12 transporter in Mycobacterium tuberculosis."  Open Biology 2013,3,
Gopinath K, Venclovas Č, Ioerger TR, Sacchettini JC, McKinney JD, Mizrahi V, Warner DF

 

Digby Warner

Dr Digby Warner, member of the IDM and senior author, accepted the award on Dr Gopinath's behalf. It was presented by the President of the Medical Research Council Professor Glenda Gray on 18 August 2014.

The paper reflects the culmination of many years of research in the MMRU on vitamin B12 metabolism in M. tuberculosis, started by Warner when he was a PhD student in Professor Valerie Mizrahi's lab many years ago. Professor Mizrahi is now Director of the IDM.

It caps a four-year project that harnessed a multi-disciplinary team from research institutions in South Africa, Switzerland, Lithuania, and the USA. A collaboration between the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne and UCT lay at the core of the work, and was funded by the NRF's Switzerland-South Africa Joint Research Programme as part of a bilateral agreement between the Swiss and South African governments. Mizrahi serves as the South African principal investigator on this Swiss-South Africa collaboration. The UCT team of Warner, Mizrahi and Gopinath led the project, applying a combination of innovative genetic and molecular tools to identify the protein that transports vitamin B12 in the TB bacterium.

Gopinath has a PhD in microbiology from the All India Institute of Medical Science in New Delhi, and joined Mizrahi's previous research team at Wits University. He is now a Postdoctoral fellow in Germany with Prof. Dr. Stefan Kaufman at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology's Department of Immunology.

"The findings may not lead to a drug candidate, but they will provide some clues into how the TB bacillus takes up some very large molecules, and could shape thinking in other areas of microbiological research too," he said.

 

Linda-Gail Bekker is elected to International AIDS Society Governing Council 2014-2016 as President-Elect
Adapted from press release www.iasociety.org - August 2014

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker is the new International AIDS Society (IAS) President-Elect.  She will sit on the IAS Governing Council for the next two years before taking on the role as President. The IAS is the world's leading independent association of HIV professionals, with over 13,000 members from more than 180 countries working at all levels of the global response to AIDS. The IAS members include researchers from all disciplines, clinicians, public health and community practitioners on the frontlines of the epidemic, as well as policy and programme planners.

Professor Bekker (of the UCT Department of Medicine and a member of the IDM) is also Deputy Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, and COO of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation. She is a physician scientist with a keen interest in HIV, tuberculosis and related diseases. She has contributed to a number of publications emanating from the HIV Centre on topics relevant to the South African HIV and TB epidemics. In her role in the Foundation, she is passionate about community development and engagement and actively explores new and innovative ways to tackle the challenge that is HIV. Her most recent community projects have included community based HIV treatment, peer led community education, mobile health services (Tutu testers) to the most needy populations, a comprehensive youth centre providing recreation, education and SRH services to youth from periurban settings and dedicated adolescent HIV care services.

Professor Bekker's interest in prevention sciences, the testing of biomedical technologies including HIV vaccines, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and microbicides has given her international renown in these fields. More recently, the Centre, under her leadership has developed expertise in a number of key populations including pregnant women, adolescents, men who have sex with men and other more difficult-to-reach-and-engage populations.

 

Professor Robin Wood wins prestigious Weber-Parkes Medal (2014) from Royal College of Physicians of London
August 2014

Professor Robin Wood, Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Medicine and Full Member of the Institute of Infectious Disease & Molecular Medicine (IDM), has been awarded the prestigious Weber-Parkes Medal for 2014 from the Royal College of Physicians of London.

Founded in 1895, this prize was originally awarded triennially to the author of the best essay on some subject connected with the aetiology, prevention, pathology or treatment of tuberculosis. Nowadays, the prize is awarded for the best work already done on this same subject in the UK or abroad.

Professor Wood will receive his prize on October 16th, on the occasion of the Harveian Oration at the Royal College of Physicians of London.

 

Public-private partnership brings new dawn with opening of George clinic
Adapted from Faculty of Health Sciences News 7 Aug 2014

Dr Tina Plattner, representing her German philanthropist family, officially opened the recently built Kuyasa (New Dawn) Clinic in Zone 9, Thembahlethu 9 July 2014.

The clinic, a union of private and public organisations, was made possible through the collaboration of the Hasso Plattner Foundation, the Isisombululo Programme, based in the Institute of Infectious Disease & Molecular Medicine [IDM], University of Cape Town, and the Western Cape Department of Health (WCDH).

Professor Gregory Hussey, leader of the Isisombululo Programme, and also Director of VACFA and Member of the IDM, said that without the Plattner family and their substantial contribution this clinic would not have become a reality. "The construction of this colourful, modern primary health care facility was funded, planned and managed by the Isisombululo Programme at a cost of R7,5 million". The remainder R1, 2million was funded by the WCDH on equipment.

Plattner emphasised that one of her family's core beliefs is that everybody deserves access to First World health care. She said that her family has always had a close connection with Africa. She reminisces about visiting her grandmother, who was married to a German South African, in Camps Bay. "As a young girl the family enjoyed our holidays here. We loved the beautiful South African beaches. This country has given us much pleasure and we are pleased that we can give back to the people."

Plattner emphasized that the highlight of the Kuyasa journey was the perseverance of the Programme Manager, Brett Utian. Utian, the face of the project in the Southern Cape, successfully managers the Isisombululo Programme which funds Antiretroviral Clinics in Thembalethu, George, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.

Prof Craig Househam, Head of the WCDH told the George Herald "Since there is no definite cure the need is to minimize the spreading of AIDS by using ARVs. We have reduced the transmission rate to 1.7% in the Western Cape. With more clinics like Kuyasa we hope to bring the transmission rate down to zero."

The clinic employs nine staff members and serves 18 000 patients monthly, the majority of which are within walking distance.

Kuyasa Clinic opening

Opening of the Kuyasa Clinic. From left: Prof Gregory Hussey (University of Cape Town), Dr Beth Engelbrecht (Deputy Director-General Chief of Operations), Dr Tina Plattner (Hasso Plattner Foundation), Prof Craig Househam (Head of Health Western Cape Government Health), Cllr Guga Fanele (George municipality) and Prof Hoosen Coovadia (Chairman, Isisombululo Board). Photo: Supplied

 

 

 

Daniel Sheward in Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans 2014
Adapted from Mail & Guardian online
http://ysa2014.mg.co.za/daniel-sheward-scientific-officer-uct/

PhD student Daniel Sheward has been an integral part of a pioneering study aimed at beating South Africa's bête noire, HIV.  "In broad terms, I am trying to understand the immune response, particularly the development of antibodies, to HIV in infected individuals, and to use this to inform the design of a next generation of vaccines."

Prior to Sheward joining the IDM for his PhD studies, he also spent time training at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg. His academic career shows a certain single-mindedness: Honours in infectious diseases and immunology, Master's in medical virology, and now a doctorate wrestling with HIV. "I was passionate about science and simply wanted to be involved in an important field. Infectious diseases sounded rewarding.  South Africa had been hit hard with HIV and Aids so I started out in an HIV lab". He is supervised by Professor Carolyn Williamson, Full Member of the IDM and Head of the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences.

The research projects that he has been involved with have had results published in Nature Medicine and Nature.

 

Dr Alan Aderem, President of Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, visits IDM

The IDM was privileged to have Dr Alan Aderem, President and Director of the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (Seattle Biomed), Seattle, USA, recently spend time at the Institute.

Alan Aderem

Dr Aderem studies systems biology, the interface between the innate and adaptive immune system. He presented a seminar to Faculty entitled "Systems Vaccinology: Using the Tools of Systems Biology to Enable Rational Vaccine Design". Hosted by Professor Clive Gray, Head of the Division of Immunology and Member of the IDM, Dr Aderem also spent time with a number of IDM Faculty staff discussing research foci, and mentoring students & postdoctoral fellows.

Aderem obtained his PhD at the University of Cape Town and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at The Rockefeller University in New York. He co-founded the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) in 2000 and served as its Director until 2011. The ISB was the first institute for systems biology worldwide, and Aderem has been one of the major pioneers in the field.  His links to the IDM go back to when the Institute was initially formed in 2004, as a member of the IDM's first International Scientific Advisory Committee.

Seattle BioMed is the largest independent non-profit organization in the USA focused solely on infectious disease research. Aderem is integrating systems approaches into Seattle BioMed's research programs in order to accelerate vaccine and drug development. His own research focuses on diseases afflicting citizens of resource poor countries, including AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and influenza.

The current approach to vaccine development is essentially trial and error and has not been accompanied by a fundamental understanding of precisely how protection arises. This lack of understanding has hampered progress in the redesign of unsuccessful vaccines. Aderem argues that systems biology offers a new approach to address the complexity of the immune system and will provide the tools for rational vaccine design. Systems approaches will also speed up vaccine trials, streamline and improve the manufacture of vaccines, and aid in field-testing.

The SA Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SASBMB) sponsored Dr Aderem's trip as one of their biennial conferences' five international plenary speakers. This year's conference was hosted and organised by a UCT committee under the Chairmanship of Professor Pete Meissner, Member of the IDM.

 

Professor Keertan Dheda wins award at Annual National Science & Technology Forum (NSTF)-BHP Billiton Awards

Professor Keertan Dheda, Head of the Division of Pulmonology, Department of Medicine, and Affiliate Member of the IDM has been honoured at the 16th Annual National Science and Technology Forum Annual National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)-BHP Billiton Awards for his exceptional support of the South African fields of science, engineering and technology through research and its outputs over the last five to ten years.

Professor Danie Visser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research at UCT, said "Professor Dheda's award recognises the vanguard of the next generation, by acknowledging his influential work in understanding the transmission and control of TB".

Other finalists from the IDM included:

  • Professor Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the IDM, also directs the MRC/NHLS/UCT Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit, leads the UCT node of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, and is a Senior International Research Scholar of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (USA). Her research focuses on mycobacterial physiology and metabolism of particular relevance to TB drug resistance and drug discovery, including DNA repair and replication, central carbon metabolism, co-factor biosynthesis and function.

  • A/Professor Thomas Scriba is Director of Immunology at the SA Tuberculosis Initiative (SATVI) in the IDM. His research focuses on the immune response to tuberculosis, with a particular emphasis on translational research into new and improved TB vaccines.

 

Who are some of the best and brightest scientific minds of our time?

In a publication by Thomson Reuters called 'The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds 2014', highly cited researchers have been acknowledged as leading their respective research fields. Associate Professor Nicola Mulder, head of Computational Biology in the IDM, has been listed as one of these. Congratulations to A/Professor Mulder!

Analysts from Thomson Reuters used the company's Web of Science platform, alongside InCites, to determine highly cited researchers. They analysed citation data from 2002 to 2012.

Altogether Thomson Reuters have listed 3,200 individuals who published the greatest number of highly cited papers in one of 21 broad fields, 2002-2012. Highly cited papers rank in the top 1% by citations for their field and year of publication.  Citations of published research acknowledge research vital to the advancement of their science. The individuals identified are influencing the future direction of their fields.

Professor Mulder was placed into the subject category Biology & Biochemistry, the only person listed from Africa.

The publication can be found here:

http://sciencewatch.com/sites/sw/files/sw-article/media/worlds-most-influential-scientific-minds-2014.pdf

 

CRYPTOCOCCAL OPTIMAL ANTIRETROVIRAL TIMING (COAT) TRIAL

COAT Trial

The COAT trial team including collaborators from UCT, Uganda and USA


Unexpected findings by investigators of the University of Cape Town in collaboration with Ugandan and American colleagues show that HIV patients with cryptococcal meningitis – a common AIDS-related infection -  should first be fully treated for the condition in hospital, and only start ARVs after this. Results of their large clinical trial were reported in the 26 June 2014, issue of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

Cryptococcal meningitis is a deadly fungal infection around and in the brain, and is now the most common cause of meningitis in adults in Africa. The fungus lives in the environment, and people are exposed by breathing it in. People with weakened immune systems can develop a severe life-threatening infection. In Africa, this occurs almost exclusively in people with advanced HIV infection and is the second most common AIDS-defining illness.

Approximately 350,000 cases of cryptococcal meningitis are estimated to occur worldwide every year, with around 7,000 of those reported by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South Africa. Detectable evidence of early fungal infection is seen in 1 in 25 cases with advanced AIDS in South Africa. Frighteningly, during initial hospitalization for fungal meningitis, up to 50% will die in Africa.

The study investigated whether 6-month survival could be improved by starting ARVs earlier while patients are still hospitalized, instead of waiting to start ARVs in an outpatient clinic 5-6 weeks after diagnosis.

The study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was conducted at the GF Jooste Hospital in Cape Town, and in two hospitals in Uganda (in Kampala and Mbarara). The South African study site was led by Associate Professor Graeme Meintjes of the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) within the Institute of Infectious Disease & Molecular Medicine, and of the Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town (UCT). Co-researchers were from the University of Minnesota in the United States, and the Mbarara and Makerere Universities in Uganda.  The clinical trial involved 177 participants, half of whom received earlier ARVs at 1-2 weeks and half received deferred ARVs at 5-6 weeks. The participants were followed for 1 year receiving standard meningitis and HIV care.

Around the world, there has been an increasing emphasis in HIV treatment guidelines to start ARVs as soon as possible (within 2 weeks) in patients with advanced HIV and AIDS.  Studies in patients with HIV and tuberculosis (TB) as well as in other AIDS-related opportunistic infections have shown that this strategy improves overall survival. The COAT trial findings surprisingly showed exactly the opposite result in patients with cryptococcal meningitis, with early ARV initiation increasing mortality.

The implication for treatment guidelines is that cryptococcal meningitis is a special situation with respect to the timing of ARVs, with the findings of the COAT trial already informing international HIV guidelines (including those of the World Health Organisation, United States, South Africa, and Uganda) prior to their publication. In patients with cryptococcal meningitis, they should first be fully treated for their meningitis in hospital, which usually involves 14 days of intravenous anti-fungal medications, and only start ARVs around 4-6 weeks after their meningitis diagnosis, usually in an outpatient clinic and after their meningitis symptoms are much improved.

One question that arises from the findings is why the patients who started ARVs earlier had a higher death rate. The investigators think that the rapid improvement in immunity due to the ARVs before the cryptococcal meningitis had been fully treated resulted in excess inflammation around the brain accounting for the higher death rate. Although in most infections, better immune function can help fight an infection, there can also be a paradox.  A severely damaged immune system which is rapidly rebounding with ARVs can generate too much inflammation and actually make patients more ill.  This paradoxical reaction to therapy is known as immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome or "IRIS."   Paradoxical IRIS reactions are rarely fatal for most types of infections. However, brain infections appear to be different. When this inflammatory reaction occurs in the brain, death can occur.

Link to the Manuscript: dx.doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1312884:
"Timing of Antiretroviral Therapy after Diagnosis of Cryptococcal Meningitis".
Boulware D. et al. (2014) 370:2487-2498 (June 26), New England Journal of Medicine.

 

Two-pronged treatment can reduce TB incidence among people with HIV
Adapted from UCT Today's News: 6 June 2014

A trial of isoniazid preventive therapy (IPT) plus antiretroviral therapy (ART) to prevent tuberculosis has shown safety and efficacy in patients with HIV, say researchers of a University of Cape Town (UCT) study published in the prestigious, high Impact Factor journal The Lancet. Tuberculosis (TB) is the biggest cause of morbidity and mortality in people infected with HIV in Africa. Both IPT and ART protect against TB in HIV-infected people, but it was not known if the two would give additive protection or could be safely combined.

The research team was spearheaded by Dr Molebogeng Rangaka (IDM Hasso Plattner fellow) and included clinical staff working for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Western Cape Provincial Government, with supervision from Professor Gary Maartens (Affiliate Member of the IDM) and Professor Robert Wilkinson, Director of the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) and Full Member of the IDM. They conducted a trial of IPT in people on ART to prevent TB at the Khayelitsha Site B Clinic in Cape Town. The addition of IPT was found to be safe and to reduce TB incidence by 37%.

The clinical trial shows that the use of isoniazid reduces the incidence of TB in adults living with HIV who are on ART.

"These findings will change clinical practice and contribute immensely to the reduction of the scourge of TB. It is one of the highlights of research in the faculty in recent times," says Professor Bongani Mayosi, head of Medicine at UCT and Groote Schuur Hospital, and also Affiliate Member of the IDM.

Discussing the purpose of the study, Professor Maartens explains that it is well established that the risk of TB could also be reduced by IPT in HIV-infected people not on ART. However, ART also reduces the risk of TB. It was previously unknown whether isoniazid would give additional benefit and whether it was safe in patients on ART.

"Therefore we did a placebo-controlled, randomised trial, involving 1,329 participants on ART over 12 months in Khayelitsha in a Provincial Department of Health clinic," he says.

Importantly, the results showed that the benefit was not limited to people with positive tuberculin skin tests (TST) – all prior studies, which were done in people not on ART, showed that the benefit was only seen in people with positive TSTs.

Professor Maartens says that TB-preventive therapy with isoniazid in people with HIV has been under-utilised. Some reasons for this include: TST is difficult to do and the patient has to return after two or three days to read the result; follow-up and care of people not yet needing ART is challenging to set up. By contrast, adding isoniazid to patients already in care and receiving regular ART is very easy to implement – an additional advantage is that a TST does not have to be done. These findings have already resulted in modified policy by the National Department of Health.

The study was funded by the Department of Health, MSF, Wellcome Trust and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, while MSF were key partners in conducting the study.

Dr Rangaka and Professor Wilkinson have conducted a series of studies focused on latent TB infection in HIV-infected people. Professor Maartens has also had a longstanding interest in the prevention and diagnosis of TB in HIV infection.

REFERENCE: Rangaka MX et al. 'Isoniazid plus antiretroviral therapy to prevent tuberculosis: a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial': Lancet 2014 May 13.

 

UCT finalists compete for annual NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards
21 May 2014

Eleven UCT researchers out of a total of 56 finalists have been selected as finalists for the prestigious NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards for 2013/14. Two of these finalists are based in the Institute of Infectious Disease & Molecular Medicine (IDM), Professor Valerie Mizrahi (Director of the IDM) and A/Professor Thomas Scriba (based in SATVI and Member of the IDM). A third finalist, Professor Keertan Dheda, is Affiliate Member of the IDM.

The national awards celebrate outstanding contributions to Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation (SETI) in South Africa.

To an individual for an outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology (SET) over a lifetime:

Valerie Mizrahi

Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the IDM, also directs the MRC/NHLS/UCT Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit, leads the UCT node of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, and is a Senior International Research Scholar of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (USA). Mizrahi is A-rated and internationally recognised for the significant contributions she has made in understanding the biology of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In 2013, she received the prestigious Christophe Mérieux Prize from the Mérieux Foundation and Institut de France for her contributions to TB research, training and leadership in South Africa.

 

TW Kambule NRF-NSTF Awards: To an emerging researcher for an outstanding contribution to SET through research and its outputs over a period of up to six years after award of a PhD or equivalent in research:

Tom Scriba

Thomas Scriba is Associate Professor and Departmental Director of Immunology, SA Tuberculosis Initiative (SATVI). His research focuses on the immune response to tuberculosis, with a particular emphasis on translational research into new and improved TB vaccines.  He has been co-investigator for more than 10 clinical trials of new TB vaccines and has authored 51 papers in peer-reviewed international scientific journals. Scriba has also contributed to raising research funds to a value exceeding R100 million and has supervised many postgraduate students. He serves on several international TB vaccine advisory groups.

 

TW Kambule NRF-NSTF Awards: To an individual for an outstanding contribution to SET through research and its outputs over the last 5-10 years:

Keertan Dheda

Keertan Dheda is Professor and Head of the Division of Pulmonology, Department of Medicine. He has made seminal contributions to understanding the pathogenesis, diagnosis, management and control of drug-resistant TB in South Africa. His contribution to this area has been internationally and nationally recognised through the 2010 International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Scientific Award, and the South African MRC Gold Award in 2013. He recently led a team that published their findings in the Lancet, showing that placing new rapid TB diagnostic technology (Gene Xpert) in a clinic was feasible when testing is performed by a nurse. This approach has led to rapid diagnosis of drug-resistant TB, with more patients being placed on treatment.

 

2014 Carnegie cohort assembles
Adapted from Today's News, UCT, 3 June 2014


Carnegie cohort

New generation: (l-r) Back row; Faridah Chebet Chemisto, Kabani Matongo, Adérito Monjane [IDM], Aleyo Chabeda and Brian Kullin. Third row; Philemon Arito, David Fadiran, Yusuf Agabi, Sulemana Mahawiya, Imuentinyan Aivinhenyo, David Ikumi, Roslyn Ray and Adeola Oyenubi. Second row; John Okedi, Rodrick Katete, Fredrick Nindo [IDM], Munya Musvosvi, Trust Mpofu, Hazvinei Tsitsi, Tamuka Moyo, Krupa Naran [IDM] and Zanele Ditse [IDM]. Front row; Threza Mtenga, Mamello Nchake, Chijioke Nwosu, Elizabeth Lwanga Nanziri, Mhbuba Shifa and Nina Wasuna [IDM]

IDM absentees: Tolullah Oni, Sara Suliman, Emile Chimusa, Michelle Fisher, Kristy Offerman, Rubina Bunjun, Munyaradzi Musvosvi, Anastasia Koch, Shivan Chetty

 

IDM hosts 14 recipients of fellowships from the "Carnegie Corporation Next Generation of Academics in Africa" programme. The aim of this UCT project, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, is to develop the next generation of academics in the fields of infectious diseases, civil engineering and economics. The IDM is responsible for administering one of the infectious diseases components of this programme. The fellows attended the Annual Orientation Cocktail, hosted by Professor Danie Visser, DVC Research, UCT.

It is no longer enough to "work, finish and publish", a new generation of Carnegie scholars were told at a gathering last week.  Dr Digby Warner (member of the IDM and one of the speakers) was quoting the C19th chemist and physicist Michael Faraday.

Faraday's "secret" to being a successful academic is no longer useful amid the deluge of information we face in our "noise-rich" era, Warner argued.  Today's academics need to engage on social media, maintain their "altrometrics" (alternative metrics to the widely used journal impact factor/personal citation indices such as the h-index) with a pace that is getting faster and faster.

The competition is not just faced by individuals, but by universities, countries and entire continents, argued Professor Visser: "You can't be competitive as a country or a continent if you don't have strong universities that drive research." It was to meet these challenges that the Next Generation of Academics in Africa was formed. Partnership universities include UCT, Makerere University (Uganda), the University of Ghana, and the University of the Witwatersrand.  Over the length of the project almost 100 new academics will be produced for the continent, Visser told the assembled scholars.

A quick scan of Africa-specific research being undertaken by current Carnegie scholars demonstrates the importance of the work for the continent. Projects range from the economics of tobacco control in Zambia, to property rights in Nigeria; from climate change vulnerability in Tanzania to the relationship between health and the labour market in South Africa, and include multiple research projects on malaria, TB and HIV/Aids.

IDM recipients of Carnegie Corporation fellowships for 2014 include 5 postdoctoral fellows and 9 PhD students.

 

Heather Zar awarded the 2014 World Lung Health Award
Adapted from Today's News, UCT, 19 May 2014
Heather Zar

Paediatric pulmonologist and Affiliate Member of the IDM Professor Heather Zar has just been awarded the 2014 World Lung Health Award, awarded by the American Thoracic Society at a ceremony in San Diego, in recognition of work that has "the potential to eliminate gender, racial, ethnic, or economic health disparities worldwide".

This is the first time the award has been presented to someone from Africa, and someone specialising in childhood health. Prof Zar is head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital.

"This award was given to me, but it reflects a lot of work done by a lot of people, and strong collaborations with excellent colleagues," says Zar. "My hope is that it helps shine a spotlight on this relatively under-resourced area of research. Children are so seldom prioritised on the health agenda. There's a lack of knowledge about the burden of childhood illnesses – even though children make up 37% of the population in South Africa, and 50-60% in other African countries."

Her expertise has long been locally and internationally acknowledged: The past president of the South African Thoracic Society and the current president of the Pan African Thoracic Society, Professor Zar will also soon be the next chair of the Forum of the International Respiratory Societies.

Researching child health
Professor Zar is PI of the Drakenstein Child Lung Health Study, a longitudinal research initiative studying 1 000 mother-child pairs in Paarl from before birth until 5 years. The study looks at a wide range of factors (from mental and physical health, to nutrition, the role of the surrounding environment and the microbiology involved in childhood illness). Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and initiated in 2011, it stands to be a landmark study for developing new ways of preventing and addressing early child health issues. Professor Mark Nicol, Member of the IDM, is a co-investigator.

The Drakenstein study is one of several supported by REACH, the Research Centre for Adolescent and Child Health – the first centre of its kind on the continent, and conceived by Zar – opened at the Red Cross Children's Hospital in October 2013. This state-of-the- art, expanded clinical research unit serves as a hub supporting clinical research sites in the community and other healthcare facilities.

 

Recent results published by IDM Members in Nature should influence HIV vaccine development

Developmental pathway for potent V1V2-directed HIV-neutralizing antibodies.
N Doria-Rose et al. including Professor Carolyn Williamson (Member of the IDM) and Dr D Sheward (of the IDM).
Nature (2014) Mar 2. doi: 10.1038/nature13036. Impact Factor 38.6

In an advance for HIV vaccine research, a scientific team has discovered how the immune system makes a powerful antibody that blocks HIV infection of cells by targeting a site on the virus called V1V2. Many researchers believe that if a vaccine elicited potent antibodies to a specific conserved site in the V1V2 region, one of a handful of sites that remains constant on the fast-mutating virus, then the vaccine could protect people from HIV infection. The new findings point the way toward a vaccine that would generate such antibodies.

 

Recent results published by IDM Members in Nature Genetics on TB

Complex genetics of drug resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Dr Digby Warner (IDM Member) and Professor Valerie Mizrahi (Director, IDM).
Nature Genetics (2013) 45:1107-1108. Impact Factor 35.2

Three new studies have used whole-genome sequencing of M. tuberculosis to demonstrate unexpected complexity in the modern evolution of drug-resistant tuberculosis, and a fourth study suggests a close evolutionary relationship between the pathogen and its human host over a period of 70,000 years. Collectively, the observations in these studies suggest that future strategies to tackle drug-resistant tuberculosis must integrate host genetics with detailed strain epidemiology.

 

H3-D in the news: new UCT collaboration to fight TB to benefit patients
Adapted from Today's News, UCT, 2 May 2014
Kelly Chibale

Celgene has teamed up with the H3-D Drug Discovery and Development Centre at UCT to advance scientific and clinical research to help patients with tuberculosis.

The H3-D Drug Discovery and Development Centre at UCT, directed by Professor Kelly Chibale, a Member of the IDM, and Celgene Global Health (CGH), a Division of Celgene Corporation, a global biopharmaceutical company that discovers, develops and delivers disease-altering medical innovation for patients in need with cancer and immunology and inflammatory diseases, have joined efforts to identify and to develop next-generation life-enhancing medicines for patients with tuberculosis (TB).

Under the collaborative agreement, Celgene will provide H3-D with compounds that target TB, and H3-D scientists will optimise these compounds to deliver pre-clinical candidates suitable for testing in humans. The work will be funded by a grant from Celgene.

Working on a potential novel cure for TB is not the only benefit of this new relationship. The collaboration with H3-D will significantly enhance drug discovery and development capabilities in South Africa. It will help to create a new generation of drug discovery scientists by allowing the recruitment of international scientists with experience and local scientists to work side by side.

H3-D is the first drug discovery centre in Africa with an initial focus on TB and malaria. Last year, the first compound developed by H3-D was approved by MMV as a clinical anti-malarial candidate. H3-D has the necessary infrastructure to conduct integrated hit-to-lead and lead-optimisation TB projects. The centre works closely with the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit at the IDM, under the leadership of Professor Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the IDM, and Dr Digby Warner, IDM Member, as well as other groups around South Africa with TB expertise. In addition to scientific expertise, H3-D also has access to the UCT Clinical Research Centre (CRC) which is under the directorship of Professor Gregory Hussey, IDM Member. The CRC has capabilities for all phases of clinical development, including a recently established capability for Phase 1 first-in-man studies.

This agreement is another significant step for H3-D. Together with its announced partnerships with the global healthcare company Novartis in 2013 and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2014, the centre continues to grow drug discovery capabilities to identify clinical candidates for diseases relevant to Africa.

Celgene Corporation, headquartered in New Jersey, USA, is an integrated global biopharmaceutical company engaged primarily in the discovery, development and commercialization of novel therapies for the treatment of cancer and inflammatory diseases through gene and protein regulation. Celgene Global Health (CGH), a Division of Celgene Corporation, collaborates with partners around the globe to find innovative solutions for healthcare challenges in the developing world.

 

Wellcome Trust International Engagement Award won by IDM students
Wellcome studentsWellcome students

In 2013, PhD students in the IDM, Anastasia Koch and Zanele Ditse (based in the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit [MMRU] directed by Professor Valerie Mizrahi, IDM member) and Olivia Carulei (supervised by Professor Anna-Lise Williamson, IDM member), together with two South African artists (Ed Young and Herman de Klerk) established collaboration with Ikamva Youth (http://ikamvayouth.org), an NGO that aims to empower youth through education. This initiative formed part of the MMRU social responsiveness commitment. Two resources were produced alongside learners in Khayelitsha. The first was an infographic that describes the natural history of TB, with a focus on the biology of the disease and the importance of seeking treatment for TB. The second resource was a 20-minute video consisting of a series of interviews with learners, which highlights the youths' attitudes towards TB, documenting personal experiences (http://cargocollective.com/ehwoza/).

The success of this project led to ideas for a second, which aims to decrease current taboos and stigmas surrounding TB. An application by the students was made to the Wellcome Trust for an International Engagement Award, which was granted in February 2014. This is a significant achievement for these students and their two artist colleagues, and is testimony to their energies and commitment to society at large.

There will be two products:

  • A website that describes the methodology, results and relevance of high impact TB studies coming out of the IDM, and
  • Videos that explore attitudes to research in the community and how biomedicine can be used to address specific questions related to TB control in that environment.

The youth group will steer production so that media is relevant to their demographic – learners will describe what kinds of digital and visual languages resonate with them and will best communicate biomedical concepts within their communities. This project will provide learners with the opportunity to stimulate discussions around the social and biomedical issues that surround TB disease and research more broadly. Through interaction with artists, the learners will in addition gain insights into digital media production.

 

UCT wins significant portion of coveted NIH funding
More than US$9m assigned to building capacity in Africa to solve global health problems
Adapted from media issue, UCT Communication and Marketing Department, 25 March 2014

The University of Cape Town attracted more funding for direct grants from the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA than any other non-American university in 2013. Even as the NIH's funding of foreign institutions has declined, UCT has attracted increasing amounts of funding every year – growing more than threefold in the last three years alone, from $2,622,671 in 2010 to $9,150,889 in 2013. Members of the IDM have played a significant role in this growth.

The NIH is the largest source of medical funding in the world. Professor Danie Visser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research at UCT, said: "NIH grants are highly competitive. This growing support is confirmation that UCT, along with other research institutions in South Africa, are recognised internationally for making a significant contribution to solving global health issues."

Other top South African research institutions – including the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the South African Medical Research Council – also outperform foreign competitors in attracting NIH funding. Overall, South Africa received $38,610,755 in direct grants to research institutions from the NIH in 2013, second only to Canada ($39,783,607).

The foci of the research grants include HIV, TB, bioinformatics and mental illnesses amongst others. Many of the IDM awards are large in scale and involve collaboration with partner universities elsewhere in Africa.

The NIH was asked at a recent international press conference why so many principal investigators in these projects were from South Africa. The answer, they said, was scientific quality.

 

SATVI takes ownership of new CyTOF®2 Mass Cytometer

In October 2013, the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) took ownership of a new CyTOF®2 Mass Cytometer, funded primarily through a Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative equipment award (CIDRI, in the IDM), with co-funding from the Department of Science and Technology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USA.

Mass cytometry resolves multiple metal probes per cell with minimal signal overlap, maximizing the information obtained from a single sample, providing researchers with an unparalleled ability to phenotypically and functionally profile cells from normal and diseased states. The CyTOF®2 Mass Cytometer allows simultaneous detection of up to 33 metal based antibodies and two DNA intercalators for multi-parameter high content single cell analysis without the limitations of marker emission overlap.

The CyTOF®2 will assist greatly in gaining new knowledge about how humans protect themselves against tuberculosis.

CyTOF

A/Professor Thomas Scriba is seen here explaining the principles of the CyTOF®2 (otherwise called Sputnik by SATVI researchers) to Sir Eric Ash, trustee of the Wolfson Foundation, UK

 

Professor Willem Hanekom takes up permanent position as Deputy Director, TB, Program Lead for Vaccines

Professor Willem Hanekom, Member of the IDM, has been on sabbatical at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since October 2013 as interim deputy director, TB, as program lead for Vaccines, during which time, he has engaged in designing a new TB vaccine strategy. He brought to this endeavor vast knowledge in the areas of TB vaccines, clinical trials, infectious disease, immunology and pathogenesis. In taking up this position permanently, he will be continue to be responsible for designing, and implementing, their new TB vaccine strategy.

This unique opportunity is a reflection of Willem's standing as a global leader in the field of TB vaccinology - a position profoundly shaped by his time at UCT. Willem is a physician and researcher who trained in paediatrics in Cape Town and paediatric infectious diseases at Northwestern University in Chicago, and then completed postdoctoral studies in immunology at Rockefeller University in New York City. After briefly serving as a faculty member at the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Miami, he returned to South Africa in 2005 to join SATVI, in the IDM, and was named Director in 2011. Focused on TB vaccine research, SATVI is widely regarded as a global leader in the clinical testing of new and better TB vaccines in humans. The team also addresses clinical and immunological questions that hamper TB vaccine development.

Willem has authored more than 130 publications and has been awarded funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP). He is actively involved in training postgraduate students.  Willem is past president of the South African Immunological Society and the Federation of African Immunological Societies. He serves on multiple World Health Organization-affiliated and other international advisory committees in TB vaccine development and translational immunology.

Willem's contributions to SATVI and the IDM have been truly exceptional and he will be sorely missed. However, in A/Professors Mark Hatherill and Tom Scriba, both IDM members, we are fortunate to have two outstanding leaders who are strongly placed to lead SATVI in the future.

 

New Medical Research Council President
Glenda Gray

The IDM offers our heartiest congratulations and support to Professor Glenda Gray, Adjunct Member of the IDM, on her appointment as the new President of the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Professor Gray takes over the presidency on 1 April 2014 from Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who has done an exceptional job in revitalising the MRC during his two years at the helm of this important organisation.

For more information on Professor Gray's appointment, visit: www.mrc.ac.za/pressreleases/2014/7press2014.htm

 

 

Sir Eric Ash, Trustee of Wolfson Foundation and past Rector of Imperial College London,
visits the IDM
Sir Eric Ash

The IDM was privileged to receive a visit from Sir Eric Ash, hosted by Professor Valerie Mizrahi, IDM Director, on the 3rd March 2014. Sir Ash was accompanied by his wife, as well as Dr Russell Ally, Executive Director of Development & Alumni Department (DAD, UCT), and Ms Sarah Archer, Senior Manager: Foundation & International, DAD.

Sir Eric Ash is a distinguished British electrical engineer who specialised in physical electronics, ultrasonic signal processing and imaging. He was Rector of Imperial College, London, UK, from 1985 until his retirement in 1993.  Sir Eric also received tours of Professor Jonathan Blackburn's newly acquired TSQ Vantage triple quadrupole mass spectrometer; viewed (from afar) the animal BSL3 facilities; and heard more about the SATVI CyTOF Mass Cytometry from A/Professor Thomas Scriba.

Sir Eric was visiting UCT to present the first of the 2014 Wolfson Memorial Lectures, entitled The Climate Change Threat: Any room for optimism? A challenge to science and for diplomacy (www.uct.ac.za/dailynews/?id=8642). The lecture formed part of the Vice-Chancellor's Open Lecture Series 2014.  Sir Eric is a trustee of the Wolfson Foundation which has supported many strategic projects around the world including the establishment of the IDM's Wolfson Pavilion and Lecture Theatre opened 10 years ago.

The second 2014 Wolfson Memorial Lecture will be given on 2nd November at the opening of the IDM's Ten Year Anniversary Symposium 2-4 November 2014. This will be given by Professor Mark Davis of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute & Stanford University. All are welcome to attend.

 

Robin Wood awarded NRF A2 rating for research on HIV/AIDS
Adapted from UCT Monday News, 17 February 2014
Robin Wood

Emeritus Professor Robin Wood, Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Research Centre and Member of the IDM, first came across 'slim disease' as a doctor in Zambia in the early 1980s, before the Human Immunodeficiency Virus had been identified, or anyone knew that Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome was the result. He had no idea it would one day become a global pandemic - and that it would shape his career and research.

That body of work, nearly two decades of pioneering HIV/AIDS research, has earned the Oxford-trained specialist physician and infectious disease expert an A2-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) [recognition as a world leader in the field].

Professor Wood has been at the vanguard of scientific leadership in HIV treatment and infectious disease research for many years, with over 350 papers published in peer-reviewed journals. It was while working at Stanford University as a fellow (infectious diseases) in 1993 that things began to heat up on the HIV front. His subsequent research looked at early HIV therapies in San Francisco, a city that had borne the early brunt of the epidemic.

Combination therapy

When Professor Wood returned to South Africa, it was to head the New Somerset HIV clinic, the Western Province's only such resource at the time. He continued his research into ARVs and collaborated in early studies on combination therapy. He also established one of the few HIV natural-history cohorts outside industrial countries.

"I expanded access to ARVs by developing the first community HIV clinic, at Gugulethu in 2002," he explains, "and this well-characterised treatment cohort documented the impact of ARV therapy on morbidity and mortality of South African patients at a time when treatment in Africa was considered impractical."  Operational research in Gugulethu led to the development of national HIV protocols, implemented in 2004.

As a recognised expert on HIV/AIDS, Wood has served as a medical advisor and expert witness for the Treatment Action Campaign in the South African Constitutional Court and Competitions Tribunal.

Focus on TB

Professor Wood's focus has now moved to the very high rates of TB infection, particularly among South Africa's children, and the intersection of TB and HIV. What has perhaps been lost in the HIV/AIDS landscape, Professor Wood says, is that "TB is an unmitigated disaster". "There is more TB in Cape Town than in Canada, the US, France and Germany put together. And it's getting consistently worse. "We need a new approach to understanding TB transmission."

Working with colleagues in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment, Wood has developed a machine with a geo-positioning capacity that measures how much air has been rebreathed from others and helps researchers estimate TB transmission probabilities in high-risk areas: buses, trains and indoor settings.

 

Congratulations to Dr Molebogeng Rangaka
Molebogeng Rangaka

Dr Molebogeng Rangaka, MBChB, Hasso Plattner Fellow of the IDM, was recently awarded the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine's (LSHTM) prestigious Woodruff Medal for her PhD thesis.

The Woodruff Medal is awarded each year to an outstanding research student completing a doctoral thesis with preference being given to clinical studies of patients, and to work likely to lead to the alleviation of suffering in tropical or developing countries. The Medal is presented in memory of Professor Alan Woodruff (1916-1992) who held the Wellcome Chair of Clinical Tropical Medicine in the School for many years.

Dr Rangaka's PhD was entitled Isoniazid plus antiretroviral therapy to prevent tuberculosis: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial, and was based on research conducted in Khayelitsha, testing and treating tuberculosis infection in the ART era. Dr Rangaka was supervised by Prof Judith Glynn, LSHTM, and co-supervised by Assoc Professor Katalin Wilkinson (CIDRI, IDM) and Dr Katherine Fielding, LSHTM.

During her PhD she held a Wellcome Trust Research Training Fellowship for Scientists from Developing Countries.  At UCT with Hasso Plattner funding, she is now hosted by Associate Professor A Boulle, Centre of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Research; and also holds an Honorary Clinical Lectureship (2013) at University College London and Public Health England (PHE, formerly the Health Protection Agency), TB Section, with Professor Ibrahim Abubakar.

A paper emanating from her thesis is now in press (The Lancet):

Molebogeng X Rangaka, Robert J Wilkinson, Andrew Boulle, Gilles van Cutsem, Shaheed Mathee, Judith R Glynn, Katherine Fielding, Rene Goliath, Raylene Titus, Eric Goemaere, and Gary Maartens for the ART plus IPT Study Team. Isoniazid plus antiretroviral therapy to prevent tuberculosis: a pragmatic randomized placebo-controlled trial.

 

UCT & MRC announce strategic partnerships worth R370m with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Adapted from Today's News, UCT, 21 January 2014

Kelly Chibale

The South African Medical Research Council (MRC) and University of Cape Town (UCT) are delighted to announce the establishment of two strategic multi-year partnerships with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). The partnerships' purpose is to develop new medicines, vaccines and other biotechnologies against HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. These unprecedented partnerships - to be led by South African scientists and backed by the South African Government's Departments of Science and Technology, and Health - seek to employ the collective skills, and research networks within and outside South Africa to deliver life-saving benefits.

The partnerships consist of two different programmes. In one programme, the MRC is receiving approximately R125 million (US$11.7 million) from the BMGF, for its Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIP) unit to lead and fund world-class research aimed at developing AIDS and TB vaccines. This funding is in addition to R130 million from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and R60 million from the Department of Health (DOH), granted over a three-year period. SHIP's role will be to build on the scientific leadership of South African scientists in these diseases and establish, fund and manage research programmes on innovative products and approaches to prevent AIDS and TB. Professor Robin Wood, of Desmond Tutu HIV Centre and Member of the IDM, is principle leader of a UCT SHIP research programme.

In the second programme, UCT's Drug Discovery & Development Centre, H3-D, led by Professor Kelly Chibale, Member of the IDM and of the Department of Chemistry, is receiving approximately R55 million (US$5 million) from the BMGF over a five-year period. This will enable H3-D to build on its experiences and track record in integrated modern drug discovery and preclinical development, to develop novel clinical drug candidates to address TB and malaria challenges. This builds on the funding (R50 million) provided to H3-D by SHIP and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA). In 2012 H3-D, in collaboration with the Medicines for Malaria Venture, announced the discovery of a novel chemical compound with the potential to impact both malaria control and eradication. The clinical candidate, codenamed MMV390048, is scheduled to enter human clinical trials this year as part of this programme.

Dr Trevor Mundel, President of the BMGF's Global Health Programme, says: "South Africa has world-class researchers and the infrastructure necessary to develop the kinds of innovative health solutions needed to accelerate progress against TB, HIV, malaria and other infectious diseases."

 

Quadruple disease burden under the microscope
Adapted from UCT Today's News 3 January 2014
Tolu Oni

Dr Tolullah Oni (Senior Medical Researcher and Carnegie Corporation Postdoctoral Fellow, IDM) and Professor Naomi Levitt were organisers of a colloquium entitled 'Understanding the epidemiological overlap and health system implications between infectious and non-communicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries'. The colloquium was hosted at UCT under the auspices of the World Universities Network (WUN). Held in November 2013, it explored a host of topics, including the risk factors and health determinants shared by infectious and non-communicable diseases, policy priorities and neglected research areas. The conclusion – that South Africa is facing an unprecedented public health challenge.

Rapidly changing disease patterns, due to epidemiological and demographic changes over a relatively short time, have resulted in the oft-mentioned quadruple disease burden. In addition, changing patterns of population health have created the increasingly common co-existence of multiple infectious and non-communicable disease morbidities within an individual; and occurring in younger age groups compared to developed countries. This public health challenge called for a new understanding of epidemiological changes, including temporal trends in disease patterns and a re-thinking of models of healthcare delivery for chronic diseases. "The implementation of the National Health Insurance scheme represents an opportunity to re-examine the current vertical chronic disease specific health system model. We propose a paradigm shift that takes into account disease interactions, health provider and patient perspectives informing health system priorities for healthcare delivery," the organisers said.

Also present at the opening was Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille. The colloquium was "crucial" for her to attend, she said.

 

Personal achievements roll in for IDM Members ...

Professors Willem Hanekom, Director of SATVI, & Robin Wood, Co-Director Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, have been elected Fellows of the Royal Society of South Africa.

Dr Digby Warner, Associate Member, & Associate Professor Landon Myer, Affiliate Member of the IDM, were two of the four recipients of the UCT College of Fellows Young Researcher Award 2013. Dr Warner is an expert in mycobacterial physiology, in particular the mechanisms and regulation of DNA repair and replication in Mycobacterium tuberculosis and their role in the emergence of drug resistance, the physiological consequences of drug resistance, and the role of vitamin B12 and related co-factors in mycobacterial pathogenesis. A/Prof Myer is of the Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Unit whose current and future research plans focus on two major new studies based at the Gugulethu Community Health Centre: the first on antiretroviral therapy in pregnancy, focusing on postpartum adherence and retention of HIV-infected women and their HIV-exposed children, and the second on the provision of family planning for HIV-infected women to prevent unintended pregnancies. The two other recipients of the award were Dr Andrew Hamilton (Physics) and Ms Amanda Tiffin (College of Music).

 

Professor Valerie Mizrahi receives Helmholtz International Fellow Award
Helmholtz award

Professor Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the IDM, had the privilege of flying to the Helmoltz Centre for Infection Research (Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung), Germany, where on 30th October 2013 she received the Helmholtz International Fellow Award valued at Euro 20,000.

The Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres is the largest scientific organisation in Germany. It is a union of 18 scientific-technical and biological-medical research centers. Cooperation with the world's best researchers is a key objective of the Helmholtz Association's international activities. To this end, the organisation has established the Helmholtz International Fellow Award, which targets outstanding senior scientists and research managers based outside Germany who have excelled in fields relevant to the Helmholtz Association, including science management at large international research institutions.

The candidates must be nominated by a Helmholtz Centre. Outstanding performance in a relevant scientific field is the most important criterion for the award. The award is an acknowledgement of Professor Mizrahi's "outstanding scientific achievements and recognition of personal and institutional cooperation to date, and as motivation for its further development". Congratulations.

 

Congratulations to Ed Sturrock, Carolyn Williamson & Willem Hanekom

Professors Ed Sturrock and Carolyn Williamson, Members of the IDM, have been elected as Fellows of UCT. This honour is granted to members of the permanent academic staff in recognition of original distinguished academic work such as to merit special recognition.

Professor Willem Hanekom, Director of the South African TB Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) and Member of the IDM, has been elected a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa. The membership recognises the important scientific contribution Professor Hanekom has made to, in his case, TB research in South Africa.

 

Sewell's 3-D journey into inner space
Adapted from UCT Today's News 11 November 2013
Trevor Sewell

In tracing the work outlined in his recent inaugural lecture, A Journey into Inner Space: A view of biology from the atomic perspective, architecture is a neat way of describing Professor Trevor Sewell's work conceptually. Prof Sewell is a Member of the IDM and heads UCT's Structural Biology Research Unit and is Director of UCT's Electron Microscope Unit.

Using a combination of X-ray crystallography, electron microscopy and molecular modelling, structural biologists like Sewell are privy to the elusive three-dimensional arrangement of atoms within molecules like proteins, the structures essential to understanding Nature's complex blueprints. A driver of industrial and pharmaceutical development, the field attracts significant investment internationally in both the academic and industrial spheres.

"These developments have brought biology into the domain of chemistry and physics, and enabled biotechnology - especially the rational design of medicines and industrial enzymes," said Sewell. Widely used in the industry for the synthesis of drug intermediates, nitrilases are Sewell's speciality.

Sewell's work with the electron microscope on imaging spectrin molecules in the human erythrocyte membrane led to a master's degree in 1976. He completed his PhD in protein crystallography under the supervision of Sir Tom Blundell, currently at Cambridge University and previously at Birkbeck College, London.

With substantial funding by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, he established a joint Master's Programme in Structural Biology with the University of the Western Cape. This marked the genesis of protein crystallography and established the field of structural biology in South Africa.

 

Congratulations to Professor Robin Wood, awarded a Flagship category 1 grant from the MRC!
Robin Wood

Professor Robin Wood, Member of the IDM, has been awarded a Flagship category 1 grant from the MRC. This three-year grant ('Tuberculosis transmission: host, bacterium and environment') will support research on TB transmission by an interdisciplinary team of UCT investigators from the IDM, the Department of Medicine, the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences and the Department of Electrical Engineering. The co-investigators are Linda-Gail Bekker, Tom Scriba, Digby Warner, Jonathan Blackburn and Nicky Mulder (all Members of the IDM), and Samuel Ginsberg.

They will systematically address bacterial, host and environmental factors contributing to TB transmission in a high-burdened target community. Their hypotheses are:

 

  • That phenotypic and genotypic characteristics of potentially transmitted organisms may differ from those organisms isolated by conventional sputum based techniques
  • That host immune (inflammatory) signatures may differ between high and low transmitters
  • That transmission is determined by the quantity of air exchanged from infective to susceptible individuals and the prevalence of potentially infective particles in that air.

The MRC recently announced the winners of the highly competitive and high impact flagship project awards to undertake large scale projects aimed at addressing South Africa's key health problems; and comes after National Treasury provided funding to the MRC to support the rejuvenation of medical research in South Africa.

 

Congratulations to Associate Professor Graeme Meintjes - international ECDTP Rising Star Africa Award 2013
Graeme Meintjes

Associate Professor Graeme Meintjes of the Department of Medicine, UCT, and Member of the IDM has received the European Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) Rising Star Africa Award for 2013.

This award is given in recognition of outstanding achievements in medical research by a young investigator. Meintjes is an Adult Infectious Diseases Physician and scientist, and a protégé of Professor Robert Wilkinson (CIDRI, IDM). He has been active in the field of HIV and tuberculosis research since 2004 after obtaining his sub-specialist qualification in Infectious Diseases.

His major contribution towards knowledge and impact on clinical practice has been his research on the tuberculosis-associated immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (TB-IRIS). This is a frequent early complication of antiretroviral therapy in Africa, where prevalent TB at the time of starting ART is common. Meintjes was the lead investigator on the randomized placebo-controlled trial of prednisone for the treatment of TB-IRIS which demonstrated that prednisone provides benefit in terms of reduced hospitalization and improvement in symptoms. This was the first clinical trial of IRIS treatment and this evidence has been incorporated into national and international guidelines. His work has defined the diagnostic approach to TB-IRIS, highlighting the importance of excluding drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Another major research focus has been cryptococcal meningitis. Meintjes has collaborated with researchers from St Georges Hospital, London, since 2005 on trials aimed at improving initial treatment of cryptococcal meningitis. As a result of this research he was asked to be a member of the World Health Organization's Guidelines Development Group for Guidelines on the Diagnosis, Prevention and Management of Cryptococcal Infection in Adults and Children; thereby impacting policy and clinical practice in Africa.

In the midst of a number of fellowships including two Wellcome Trust fellowships (Training fellowship in 2007 and Intermediate Fellowship in 2012), plus international collaborations, Meintjes is also a Member of the Royal College of Physicians of Glasgow and an Honorary Clinical Lecturer at Imperial College London.

 

MRC Silver Medals for Graeme Meintjes & Kelly Chibale, and Gold for Keertan Dheda

The MRC recently announced the MRC Young Scientist Awards (Silver Medal), awarded annually to up-and-coming scientists who have made important scientific contributions to the medical field (Scientific Achievement Awards). Of the four awarded nationally, two, Associate Professor Graeme Meintjes and Professor Kelly Chibale, are Members of the IDM.

The MRC also awarded their Gold medals for 2013, and one went to Affiliate Member, Professor Keertan Dheda. Congratulations to them all.

 

Kelly Chibale

Professor Chibale is Director of the H3-D Centre for Drug Discovery and Development at UCT.

The award noted that "Over the past five years, Prof Chibale has made seminal contributions that have impacted on health, especially in developing countries. Most significantly, he led a project team that discovered the first clinical candidate, for any disease, researched on African soil by an African drug discovery centre, a molecule with the potential to be used as part of a single-dose cure for malaria. Details featured in Nature Medicine 2013 under the headline 'Made in Africa', and also received the 2012 Medicines for Malaria Venture Project of the Year award."

 

Graeme Meintjes

Associate Professor Meintjes, also of the Department of Medicine, is an adult infectious diseases physician.

The findings of his research have played a seminal role in defining clinical approaches and broadening understanding of a condition that has recently emerged (TB-IRIS), and improving treatment strategies for crytococcal meningitis. His work has also informed evolving treatment guidelines for ART in South Africa and internationally. See further details on his ECDTP Rising Star Award 2013.

 

 

Keertan Dheda

Affiliate Member Professor Keertan Dheda received the 2013 Gold Medal. This is an exceptional achievement that is so richly deserved, with Keertan and his team recently publishing important new papers in The Lancet and PLoS Medicine. During his research career, Dheda has made substantial contributions to the management and control of drug-resistant TB in South Africa. He has been internationally recognised for this by being awarded the 2010 International Union gainst Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Scientific Award.

 

Congratulations to Dr Tolu Oni!
Tolu Oni

Dr. Tolu Oni is a young physician/epidemiologist and scientist based in the Clinical Infectious Disease Research Initiative (CIDRI) at the IDM. She has been elected into membership of the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS), a major achievement.

SAYAS was borne out of the need for young scientists to contribute towards solutions to the important national and global challenges facing society. It represents the voice of young scientists on national and international issues and gives them a platform to influence policy decisions. It is envisaged that SAYAS will become one of the apex advisory structures to government on science and policy matters. SAYAS also aims to contribute towards the development of scientific capacity in South Africa through mentoring and role-modeling of future scientists, and by fostering opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations between young scientists. In particular, it will bridge the gap between the more senior and well-established Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the younger scientists who represent future leaders in their fields, but are not part of ASSAf.

Dr Oni completed medical training at University College London Medical School, UK, and after postgraduate training in internal medicine in UK and Australia, moved to Cape Town in 2007 to work in HIV/TB research. She completed a Masters in Public Health/Epidemiology degree at UCT and a Doctoral degree in the Clinical Epidemiology of HIV-associated TB in Khayelitsha, under the supervision of Professor Robert Wilkinson, Director of CIDRI and a Member of the IDM.

She is currently working as a Senior Research Medical Officer and her current research focus is on population health transition and the epidemiology of the interaction between the established epidemics of HIV and TB, and emerging non-communicable disease epidemics such as type 2 diabetes in transitional societies such as South Africa.

As a SAYAS member, she aims to work to encourage public engagement and a cross disciplinary discourse on the determinants of health; and to engage public, private, academic, governmental and non-governmental sectors in the translation of research findings into policy and practice. She strives to actively promote a coordinated approach to engagement with other scientific communities, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and the Global South to identify creative strategies to address complex population health issues.

 

Congratulations to Tom Scriba!

Dr Tom Scriba, Deputy Director Immunology of SATVI and Associate Member of the IDM, has been awarded the 2013 Meiring Naude Medal from the Royal Society of South Africa. This medal is awarded to exceptional young scientists under the age of 35 and is made for his contribution to science in South Africa in the field of tuberculosis immunology and TB vaccines.

In addition to this prestigious award, Tom has also been selected as winner of the UCT Faculty of Health Science's 2012 Best Publication in the Clinical Sciences Award.

 

A Dimorphic Fungus Causing Disseminated Infection in South Africa.

Kenyon C, Bonorchis K, Corcoran C, Meintjes G, Locketz M, Lehloenya R, Vismer HF, Naicker P, Prozesky H, van Wyk M, Bamford C, du Plooy M, Imrie G,Dlamini S, Borman AM, Colebunders R, Yansouni CP, Mendelson M, Govender NP.

N Engl J Med. 2013 Oct 10;369(15):1416-1424.

The genus Emmonsia contains three species that are associated with human disease. Emmonsia crescens and Emmonsia parva are the agents that cause adiaspiromycosis, and one human case of Emmonsia pasteuriana infection has been described. We report a fungal pathogen within the genus Emmonsia that is most closely related to E. pasteuriana in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected adults in South Africa. Between July 2008 and July 2011, we conducted enhanced surveillance to identify the cause of systemic, dimorphic fungal infections in patients presenting to Groote Schuur Hospital and other hospitals affiliated with the University of Cape Town. DNA sequencing was used to identify pathogenic fungi.

A total of 24 cases of dimorphic fungal infection were diagnosed, 13 of which were caused by an Emmonsia species. All 13 patients were HIV-infected, with a median CD4+ T-cell count of 16 cells per cubic millimeter (interquartile range, 10 to 44), and all had evidence of disseminated fungal disease. Three patients died soon after presentation, but the others had a good response to a variety of antifungal agents and antiretroviral therapy. Phylogenetic analysis of five genes (LSU, ITS1-2, and the genes encoding actin, β-tubulin, and intein PRP8) revealed that this fungus belongs in the genus Emmonsia and is most closely related to E. pasteuriana.

The findings suggest that these isolates of an Emmonsia species represent a new species of dimorphic fungus that is pathogenic to humans. The species appears to be an important cause of infections in Cape Town.

 

Congratulations to Professor Willem Hanekom, new Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa!

Professor Willem Hanekom, Director of SATVI and a member of the IDM, has been elected as a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa. The normal criterion for election is significant achievement in the advancement or application of science, and, in addition, Members should be persons who can be expected to assist the Academy in achieving its objectives.

The Academy is the only South African academy of science recognised by Government. Its objectives are:

  1. to promote common ground in scientific thinking across all disciplines, including the physical, mathematical and life sciences, as well as human, social and economic sciences;
  2. to encourage and promote innovative and independent scientific thinking;
  3. to promote the optimum development of the intellectual capacity of all people;
  4. to provide effective advice and facilitate appropriate action in relation to the collective needs, opportunities and challenges of all South Africans; and
  5. to link South Africa with scientific communities of the highest levels, in particular within the Southern African Development Community, the rest of Africa and internationally.

 

Valerie Mizrahi delivers keynote address at launch of UCT research report
Adapted from UCT Monday paper 23 September 2013
Valerie Mizrahi

Professor Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, delivered the keynote address at the launch of the UCT 2012 Research Report. Other guests included National Research Foundation Chief Executive Officer Dr Albert van Jaarsveld.

In her address, Mizrahi said it was vital that UCT articulate the important research, prioritise it and configure its system accordingly. "What do we invest in, and how do we evaluate research?"  Mizrahi cited the development of new TB vaccines as an example - a highly complex interaction of multinational partners and collaborations and funders.

"We urgently need new TB drugs. With South Africa's historical incidence we [UCT] have a special responsibility to play a leading role in assessing the value chain in drug discovery and implementation. We have to be part of the value chain here." There had to be significant and sustained support, she added. "However, the commitment must be long-term, as there will be no quick fixes or easy solutions."

 

TB drama educates, ahead of new SATVI trial for adolescents
Adapted from UCT Monday paper 23 September 2013
TB drama

Drama is playing a central role in educating the Worcester community ahead of a new TB vaccine trial targeting adolescents in this Boland town, where the incidence of TB is among the highest in the world. Teens from Worcester Senior Secondary School have been showing a special play to schools and adult audiences, called Karina se Keuse (Carina's Choice). The play is about TB (and HIV) - alerting them to symptoms, dispelling myths, and illustrating the importance of drug trials.

A new trial will be launched in January 2014 by UCT's flagship South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI). SATVI is Africa's largest dedicated TB vaccine research group, and is based in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine. The trial will be based at SATVI's field site at the Brewelskloof Hospital and will rely heavily on buy-in from this tightly knit community.

Karina se Keuse is an adaptation of a comic by the same name, developed of the then-SATVI- based Linda Rhoda in 2010 under the watchful eye of the Worcester Community Advisory Board and funded by a grant from the WHO Global Partnership to Stop TB. Its storyline closely reflects the community experience: a young mother chooses to enrol her baby in a SATVI TB vaccine trial, but encounters resistance from family and friends, based on hearsay.

Drama has proved to be a highly efficient communication vehicle for vital health messages. Last year physician and lead researcher on the drama project, Dr Michele Tameris, secured a Wellcome Trust International Engagement Grant to bring the play to life and to evaluate knowledge gleaned by the teens about TB, via surveys conducted by UCT social scientist Amber Abrams.

On many levels, SATVI's relationship with the Worcester community has been carefully built and maintained. "We've conducted several TB studies among adolescents in the Worcester region over the last decade and we work closely with community leaders, teachers, and the departments of education and health to engage with high school learners and their parents," said Associate Professor Mark Hatherill, SATVI deputy director (clinical trials and epidemiology).

"Community involvement is critical to the success of these studies. Already, more than 20 000 people have participated in studies at the Worcester field site."

Overview of new TB vaccine trial

  • Aimed at adolescents, the trial will rely on community buy-in to recruit almost 1 000 participants.
  • It is the first efficacy trial of a new TB vaccine to be conducted among adolescents since the current vaccine, Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG), which was first used in 1921.
  • It will focus on prevention of infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the organism that causes TB, rather than protection against disease itself.
  • Adolescents in the Western Cape have very high rates of M. tuberculosis infection, associated with increased risk of active TB disease in later years. An intervention aimed at adolescents will therefore help to control the epidemic.
  • The candidate vaccine will be compared to repeat vaccination with BCG, which is given routinely at birth, and to an inactive placebo.
  • Some 990 adolescents from high schools in the greater Worcester region will take part in the trial, for up to two years.

 

New clinic rooms expand TB-HIV research site in Khayelitsha
CIDRI Khayelitsha opening

New clinic rooms on the premises of the Khayelitsha Day Hospital were recently opened by IDM Director Prof Valerie Mizrahi. Named 'HUBB - Home of Ubuntu-Based Studies', the new rooms add much-needed space at the clinic. It is at this facility that the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI, based in the IDM), who sponsored the building, works in partnership with international group MSF (Doctors without Borders), City Health and the provincial Health Department in addressing major health problems like HIV-TB in a high incidence setting.

CIDRI's research in HIV-TB has influenced national and international policy. Under the leadership of Director Professor Robert Wilkinson, CIDRI has been conducting operational and translational research at site B, Khayelitsha. Research outputs have exceeded 100 peer reviewed publications. A very good example of this was a randomised pragmatic controlled trial of IPT plus ART for the prevention of TB that showed the combined therapy was associated with a 37% reduction in TB. Over the years, collaboration has deepened to encompass the need for greater space at the Ubuntu clinic (a vanguard in the provision of services for HIV-TB co-infected persons).

In 2008 the Wellcome Trust provided funding via CIDRI to extend clinic provision by five rooms that are now used for data entry and document storage. In 2011 the establishment of the site as fully ICH-GCP compliant led to the addition of the eKhayavac building with a dedicated pharmacy, UCT network and other facilities including digital radiography. Use of this building for the purpose of tuberculosis vaccine trials is also shared with partners from Stellenbosch University.

"The existence of a vaccine trial on site has deepened community relations and also improved the provision of services available to HIV-infected people not yet eligible for ART," says Prof Wilkinson.

 

Charles Wiysonge selected for WHO African Task Force on Immunization

The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa has appointed Dr Charles Wiysonge, Associate Member of the IDM, as a member of the WHO African Task Force on Immunization. The Task Force is charged with advising WHO on overall regional policies and strategies, ranging from vaccine and technology research and development, to delivery of immunisation services and linkages between immunisation and other health interventions in Africa. The mandate of the Task Force is not restricted to childhood vaccines and immunisation but extends to the control of all vaccine-preventable diseases in the context of health systems strengthening. Dr Wiysonge is the Programme Manager of the Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA), situated in the IDM.

 

Young African SACORE scholars present their research

From 31 August to 3 September, UCT's Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI, based in the IDM) hosted the annual scientific meeting of the Southern Africa Consortium for Research Excellence (SACORE). The consortium comprises three African universities and affiliated institutions that have an emerging research environment (in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), three African institutions with established research environments (in South Africa and Botswana) and four UK universities with high quality research environments. The meeting included plenary lectures from leading speakers, presentations by SACORE students, and a day of workshops including a symposium 'Understanding and intervening in tuberculosis in Southern Africa', organised by Professor Robert Wilkinson of CIDRI. "This is a large meeting convened with our longstanding, well-established and synoptic Southern African Research partners," says Prof Wilkinson. The main role of CIDRI has been to facilitate the development of young African SACORE scholars and the depth of generosity should be apparent from presentations given at the meeting.

 

Congratulations to Landon Myers

Associate Professor Landon Myers, Affiliate Member of the IDM, has received the prestigious African Union - THIRD WORLD ACADEMY OF SCIENCE (AU-TWAS) National Award for Young Scientists in South Africa, in the Life and Earth Sciences category. The award is supported by the Academy of Science of South Africa and the Department of Science and Technology. The award recognises Myers' excellence in research and the impact his research has on society. Additionally, he was acknowledged for his contribution to the training and development of students, along with his involvement in broadening the public understanding of science and technology.

 

EMBO AIDS-Related Mycoses Meeting, 3-5 July 2013

A three-day meeting of researchers was held at the IDM from 3-5 July 2013 to address public health, as well as clinical and basic science aspects of fungal infections that cause disease in patients with HIV infection. While tuberculosis is recognised as a common cause of morbidity and mortality amongst HIV infected patients in sub-Saharan Africa it is certainly not the only cause. Collectively fungal diseases (such as cryptococcal meningitis and pneumocystis pneumonia) result in a substantial number of hospitalisations and deaths amongst HIV infected patients globally. Even amongst patients treated for cryptococcal meningitis, mortality is over 50% in routine care settings. Despite this high disease burden and major contribution to HIV-related mortality, fungal diseases in HIV have not had sufficient public health or research prioritisation. The major aims of this meeting were to bring together both HIV and fungal researchers to share their research findings, engage in discussion, develop collaborations and find ways in which the relative neglect of fungal diseases on the global HIV public health and research agenda could be reversed.

Participants from all over the world attended this meeting, and plenary presentations were given by world-leading scientists and covered topics including the effect of HIV/AIDS on antifungal immunity, the epidemiology, surveillance and public health aspects of these infections, the fungal diseases (both from the host and pathogen perspective, including sessions on Candida, Pneumocystis, Cryptococcus and other fungi), fungal-related immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome, antifungal treatment options and the way forward. Considerable time was given to general discussion during this meeting and several important action points were agreed by consensus of all participants. A consensus statement from the workshop is being developed for public presentation.

The meeting was attended by 88 individuals including 29 invited speakers. There were 8 short talks chosen from submitted poster abstracts. There were 21 students/postdoctoral fellows in attendance, most of whom presented posters, and 17 of whom were from Africa. Nearly half the participants were from South Africa and other countries represented include: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Malawi, Nigeria, Taiwan, Tanzania, the Netherlands, Uganda, United Kingdom, USA, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Full programme available at: www.aids-and-mycoses-2013.co.za

EMBO sponsors

 

South Africa ill-prepared for influenza pandemic
Adapted from UCT Daily News 28 August 2013
Ed Rybicki

South Africa would be left to fend for itself in the event of a pandemic viral outbreak, said UCT's Professor Ed Rybicki to an audience of academics, government officials and the general public.

Speaking at UCT's first Café Scientifique in July 2013, the molecular biologist led discussions about the state of medical virology in South Africa and worldwide, focusing particularly on vaccine-production. Rybicki's talk, titled Vaccine Rapid Response: Is South Africa Ready?, left guests in no doubt that the country was ill-equipped to protect its citizens from any such outbreak in the near future.

"There is an enormous amount of academic activity and research activity, but not a lot of getting stuff back out to the communities that aren't experts," said Rybicki.

The "stuff" that Rybicki and his team work on is vaccines. They have 66 patents on the market, but none of them, to Rybicki's dismay, have become products on shelves. This was simply due to a lack of funding to follow projects through to the development and distribution stages (the lack of funding was borne of a complex mix of economics and politics), he said.

For the H191 global influenza pandemic which struck in 2009, South Africa only received its first batch of vaccines in 2010 - and these first went to officials of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The whole purpose of UCT's Café Scientifique is to bring the science back into culture," said Piet Barnard, the director of UCT's Research Contracts and Intellectual Property Services (RCIPS) office. Part of the aim was to create a culture of involving alumni in the mentoring of young innovators, he added, and the 'Café' provided an ideal forum.

 

Blackburn calls for new paradigm in healthcare sector
Adapted from UCT Daily News 26 August 2013
Jonathan Blackburn

It is time for a new paradigm in the healthcare sector, one where the cost of new drugs is not crippling, and diseases are treated in a far more nuanced manner than currently is the case.

That was the thrust of IDM Professor Jonathan Blackburn's inaugural lecture on 21 August. Professor Blackburn was appointed to the South African Research Chair in Applied Proteomics & Chemical Biology in the IDM in 2008. During his lecture 'Discovery and Innovation in Chemical Biology: Biosynthesis, microarrays, mechanisms and diagnostics', Professor Blackburn said "There's huge opportunity for both biotechnology companies and academics to get involved in the drugs-creating world. There are opportunities to develop compounds that might be suitable for diseases, particularly in the developing world where, clearly, the pharmaceutical economic model won't work.

"The majority of prescriptions drugs on the market today only work on about 40% of the people to whom they are prescribed," he said. "That's not generally recognised. It doesn't mean to say that for 60% of patients there isn't a drug. It just means that the doctor who is making the prescription didn't know exactly what was wrong with the patients and didn't prescribe the right drug to target the exact disease and didn't take account of the patient's genetic makeup.

"So it seems to me it's time for a new paradigm in this whole healthcare sector," said Blackburn. "We should really end up with looking at a process where we're going towards prescription drugs to the patients on the basis of accurate diagnosis and knowledge of the impact of the patient's genotype on that medication."

 

Congratulations! To Professor Dan Stein
Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health and Affiliate Member of the IDM

Professor Stein and others were honoured at the National Research Foundation 2013 Awards Ceremony in Port Elizabeth. The annual awards function acknowledges South African scientists who are unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their field for the high quality and impact of their research outputs. Professor Stein also had his NRF A-rating reconfirmed.

 

Ethnic variation in the immune response to tuberculosis
Adapted from news release at NIMR, 5 July 2013
Robert Wilkinson

Genetically distinct strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis cause disease in particular ethnic groups, and these strains vary in their ability to elicit inflammatory responses from antigen-presenting cells in vitro. Circulating and antigen-stimulated concentrations of inflammatory mediators (the 'inflammatory profile') might therefore be expected to differ between tuberculosis patients of different ethnic origin.

Robert Wilkinson of both the NIMR's Division of Mycobacterial Research & the IDM, UCT, has taken part in a study led by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London. The study was funded by MRC and the British Lung Foundation and conducted by Adrian Martineau at NIMR and Queen Mary University of London, in collaboration with a group of London hospitals. Anna Coussens (also of the NIMR and now IDM) measured immune responses in samples from 128 newly-diagnosed TB patients in London who were divided by ethnicity into those of African (45), European (27), Asian (55) or mixed European/Asian (1) ancestry.

By analysing the levels of various inflammatory markers in blood samples taken before treatment, the scientists showed that immune responses of Asians and Europeans were similar to each other, but different from those of Africans.

'The TB bacterium has co-evolved with humans following migration to Europe and Asia some 70,000 years ago, and different strains of the TB bacterium disproportionately infect particular ethnic groups. Our study has shown, for the first time, that it is ethnic differences in the patient's genetic make-up that cause most of the variation in immune responses' Adrian Martineau, Blizard Institute, QMUL

These results were published in PLOS Pathogens. The results ' ... have important implications, both for the development of new diagnostic tests, which increasingly rely on analysing the immune response, and also for work to identify candidate biomarkers to measure response to anti-TB treatment. In the future, diagnostic tests and biomarkers will need to be validated in different ethnic populations.' Anna Coussens, NIMR and IDM, UCT

 

Kelly Chibale & team: 'Made in Africa' feature in Nature Medicine; and recipients of MMV award
Adapted from Nature Medicine, Volume 19 Pages 803-806, published online 08 July 2013.
MMV Drug Discovery

Professor Kelly Chibale, Member of the IDM, and his Centre for Drug Discovery & Development  (H3-D) team feature in a news article published in this month's issue of Nature Medicine. The feature dominates with news of the Centre's first clinical candidate - a potential malaria drug known as MMV390048 (see earlier news items below).

The UCT-led effort to find a single dose cure for malaria has been named the 2012 Project of the Year by Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV). They received this accolade at a Malaria Symposium held at UCT on Friday 12 July 2013.

MMV390048 is due to enter human trials next year - an important milestone for African medicine. The advancement of MMV390048 marks the first time an Africa-led drug development effort has taken a small molecule from screening through to a stage where it is ready for human testing, in modern medicine. Irrespective of the success of MV390048, this malaria project has enabled H3-D to build up its drug discovery capability. Chibale's team is also searching for novel treatments for tuberculosis.

See here for the full news article in Nature Medicine and more information on how the Centre began.

 

UCT student leaves for prestigious Swiss summer school
Adapted from UCT Daily News 5 July 2013
Zela Martin

BSc Medical Honours student Zela Martin has landed an international honour. This week she will fly the African universities' flag at the prestigious annual Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Summer School in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Though other African candidates have attended the summer school, she is thought to be the first representative of an African university.

Martin will be attached to the Global Health Institute for a two-month research programme designed to improve critical thinking skills, the evaluation of scientific information, experiment design, and the formulation of ideas and test hypotheses. The timing of the summer school will ensure that she's able to work on a component of her Honours research as part of an existing collaboration between her local supervisor, Dr Digby Warner of the MRC/NHLS/UCT Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit (MMRU) and the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, IDM, and his Swiss partner, Professor John McKinney.

The research targets drug tolerance in TB. Little is understood about the mechanisms underlying tolerance, but the bacterial SOS response, which Martin studies, might be involved. The SOS response is a global response to DNA damage in which the cell cycle is arrested to allow for DNA repair and, in some cases, mutagenesis. Martin has inserted mutated genes into a fluorescing strain of Mycobacterium smegmatis, a TB bacillus that is non-pathogenic to humans, thus providing a valuable proof-of-concept for TB research. This strain will be studied further at EPFL by making use of single cell imaging technology that is not yet available in South Africa.

"I'm very hopeful that Zela's participation flags the start of an important relationship between the Summer School and the Med Hons programme," said Warner. "Most importantly, the timing of the summer school ensures that Zela - and any future participants from Med Hons - will get the benefit of two highly competitive international training programmes, while working on a single collaborative research project."

Martin has been funded by a Harry Crossley Foundation Research Fellowship, and funding from the MMRU, IDM.

 

President Barack Obama visits the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) Youth Centre in Masiphumelele, Cape Town

This historic visit by a USA President on Sunday June 30th, 2013, intended to give the President a first-hand experience of the impact PEPFAR funding has made on the lives of South Africans most vulnerable to HIV. Other dignatories to attend included the PEPFAR Ambassador Goosby, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu with his daughter Thandeka Tutu-Gxashe who is a member of the DTHF Board.

More details here »

The DTHF is run in association with the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre based within the IDM, UCT. The DTHC Directors, Professors Robin Wood and Linda-Gail Bekker are also Members of the IDM. All of the Foundation's activities are underpinned by research and evaluation, with the Foundation operating community sites in greater Cape Town's Nyanga and Masiphumelele districts.

 

Congratulations! To Professor Robert Millar, Co-Director, MRC/UCT Research Group for Receptor Biology, IDM
Adapted from UCT Daily News 29 June 2013
Robert Millar

Professor Robert Millar, Co-Director of the MRC/UCT Research Group for Receptor Biology, IDM (together with Prof Arieh Katz), and Director of the Mammal Research Unit, University of Pretoria, was one of three UCT winners in the 2012/2013 NSTF/BHP Billiton Awards. These awards honour outstanding contributions to science, engineering, technology and innovation in the South African research and development community. Professor Millar clinched The Lifetime Achiever Award to an individual for an outstanding contribution to SETI over a lifetime. Winners in the 12 categories were announced at a gala dinner in Gauteng on 27 June, presented by the Minister in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel, on behalf of the Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom.

 

 

Top Soft-Funded Academic and Research Staff (SFARS) Awards
Sourced from Faculty Health Sciences newsletter, June 2013

The SFARS awards have been made to Faculty members in recognition of the significant role played by soft-funded staff within the Faculty. Support was from a Vice-Chancellor's Strategic Award and the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences.

5 of the 7 awards were to researchers affiliated with the IDM:

Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, Desmond Tutu HIV Centre & Full Member of the IDM
Prof Willem Hanekom, South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative & Full Member of the IDM
Dr Thomas Scriba, South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative & Associate Member of the IDM

and

Associate Professor Helen McIlleron, Division of Clinical Pharmacology
Associate Professor Landon Myer, School of Public Health and Family Medicine,
both of whom are Affiliate Members of the IDM.

Further details of their research is here »

Congratulations to all.

 

New recognition for obsessive-compulsive and related disorders
Adapted from UCT Monday Paper Volume 32.08, 3 June 2013
Dan Stein

This week saw the release of the American Psychiatric Association's 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is used throughout the world and this is the first revision in nearly two decades. Not surprisingly, it has received a good deal of media coverage across the globe. Professor Dan Stein (pictured) head of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Director of the Brain Behaviour Initiative at UCT, and an Affiliate Member of the IDM, is one of the many international contributors to DSM-5.

An A-rated scientist, Stein headed the Sub-Work Group on Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum disorders, and has published a number of papers on the DSM-5 revision process. Stein is pleased that Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders will, for the first time, be a separate chapter in DSM.

Professor Christine Lochner, his University of Stellenbosch colleague in their MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders, played a key role in leading field surveys in this area. These contributed to formulating the final diagnostic criteria. Stein is hopeful that the improved diagnostic criteria will help encourage diagnosis and treatment of these prevalent, but often neglected, disorders which include body dysmorphic disorder, hoarding disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) and excoriation (skin-picking disorder).

Stein concludes: "In South Africa we focus a lot on medical conditions associated with mortality. But if one looks at morbidity, then psychiatric disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder are among the greatest contributors to our national burden of disease. So it's important that we develop expertise in this area as well."

 

Congratulations!
Professor Glenda Gray, Adjunct Member IDM, receives Order of Mapungubwe

Adapted from Health-e news
Glenda Gray

On the 27th April 2013 President Jacob Zuma honoured Wits Faculty of Health Sciences Professor Glenda Gray (IDM Adjunct Member) with South Africa's highest honour - the Order of Mapungubwe - for her life-saving research focusing on the mother to child transmission of HIV.

"It is a great honour and I am humbled to receive an award like this, which I accept on behalf of the dedicated team of scientists and clinicians with whom I work and who share the vision of eliminating paediatric HIV," says Gray who is a world authority on HIV and the Head of the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.

She says that the next ten years are going to produce vaccines, microbicides and even cures for HIV that were never thought possible.

In 1996 Gray co-founded the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences- PHRU at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. "Back then many people thought I was mad to make a career of clinical research in HIV, which was a very new field at the time." Under Gray's directorship it is now a 400-strong research unit that has achieved international recognition for its research and results in the care, treatment and prevention of HIV in the mother-to-infant, adolescent and adult.

She is equally positive about the HIV vaccines and interventions they are working on at present. "Within the next ten years we will have an HIV vaccine and/or a microbicide that women can use. Scientists are also working on a cure through, for example, gene therapy. We are going to see results we never thought possible," says Gray.

The Order of Mapungubwe is South Africa's highest honour. It was instituted on 6 December 2002, and is granted by the President of South Africa, for achievements in the international arena that have served South Africa's interests. The Director of the IDM Professor Valerie Mizrahi has herself received the Order of the Mapungubwe (Silver) award in 2007, in recognition of her contributions to biochemistry, molecular biology and tuberculosis in South Africa.

 

Top international award for cardiovascular researcher
from UCT Daily News, 25 April 2013

Karen Sliwa-HahnleKaren Sliwa-Hahnle, Professor of cardiovascular research, Director of UCT's Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research, and Affiliate Member of the IDM, has been awarded a top international award for her research into cardiovascular prevention, heart failure and the pathophysiology of cardiomyopathy. The Paul Morawitz Award is the highest annual award for exceptional cardiovascular research for people from German-speaking countries (Austria, Switzerland and Germany), and can be given to scientists, cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons or paediatric cardiologists. The award's laudation notes that Sliwa-Hahnle studied as a physician in Berlin, Germany, and subsequently worked at the University of the Witwatersrand.

"In 2010 she was appointed as professor of cardiovascular research and the director of the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa, at the prestigious University of Cape Town, South Africa," the laudation says, adding that, "due to her scientific excellence and international success, she made German cardiology internationally visible." Sliwa-Hahnle said cardiovascular research was performed at a very high standard in Germany, with a huge funding volume and many innovations over the past 100 years. "It is a great honour to receive this very prestigious award."

During her years in cardiovascular research, Sliwa-Hahnle established a theme of projects called the Heart of Soweto Studies, which are recognised worldwide. The projects investigate the prevalence, presentation and management of cardiac disease in an urban African population. "These studies on more than 8 000 patients highlighted the high prevalence of hypertension, obesity and cardiac disease in Africa". She recently expanded the project to include other African countries such as Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and Sudan, and has also designed a number of innovative research programmes and leveraged international funding for several major research projects.

Sliwa-Hahnle's research on the physiology, clinical outcome and therapy of peripartum cardiomyopathy, a disease affecting women post-delivery, resulted in the establishment of the Peripartum Cardiomyopathy Working Group, which she chairs.This group has leveraged funding for a 1 000-patient international registry on PPCM, and the project is expected to improve knowledge of this disease (which occurs in 1 in 1 000 South African women), and - ultimately - patient outcomes.

 

Stem cells: Handle with care
from UCT Daily News, 19 April 2013

Jacquie GreenbergWhile stem cell technology is a real and present key to cures for inherited disorders, the watchword is caution, said Professor Jacquie Greenberg (Affiliate Member of the IDM) in her inaugural lecture on 17 April. Greenberg, based in the Division of Human Genetics, is co-head of the Faculty of Health Sciences' new UCT Stem Cell Initiative. With a UCT career spanning over four decades, her lecture detailed a journey along the double helix of the human genome, moving from basic science to translational genetics, to therapeutics directed at South African families with genetic conditions.

Although much of the current thinking around genetic therapeutic intervention has been saddled by the "baggage" around the science and ethics of culturing embryonic stem cells, new stem cell technology has changed that. However induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), technology he used to turn cultured skin and other cells into iPSCs, has changed that (see below).

Greenberg's PhD stimulated a lifelong interest in the late-onset neurodegenerative diseases, the inherited ataxias and Huntington's Disease, a genetic disorder that affects muscle co-ordination and leads to cognitive decline and psychiatric problems. Importantly, this research alerted her to the complex ethical considerations of genetic counselling - and the dilemmas of predictive testing. It's an area in which she's made a significant contribution. In 1996 Greenberg became one of the first genetic counsellors to register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. She's also the course convenor of one of only two master's programmes in genetic counselling in South Africa, which remains "much in demand and much needed". Sadly, a lack of posts is resulting in the slow demise of this vital service, despite the World Health Organisation's recommendation that there are two genetic counsellors per million people.

Since 1990 Greenberg has worked closely with long-standing colleague Professor Raj Ramesar, head of the Division of Human Genetics, on the Retinal Degenerative Disorders screening programme. Currently, the registry has clinical and genetic mutation data on a wide range of patients affected by a range of retinal degenerative disorders. Greenberg also serves on the committee of the national Department of Health's team tasked with drafting regulations and guidelines for the new National Health Bill's section on human cloning and stem cell research.

As for their future work, the UCT Stem Cell Initiative is generating stem cell lines for other conditions. These will be used for future investigations into disease modelling and possible therapeutic screening. "We do research not for the sake of science but for the sake of patients - and to do what we do better…..[but] as excited as we are about stem cells, we need to restore balance. There are many people who hope it's a cure for the future and yes, it is, but the future is not yet now."

 

International prize for Mizrahi's research and mentoring
from UCT Daily News, 17 April 2013
Valerie Mizrahi

The €500,000 award (over R6 million), made by the Institute's Academy of Sciences, is a highly prestigious international accolade and will be presented to Mizrahi at a ceremony in Paris on 5 June.

Paying tribute to Mizrahi's research, member of the Academy of Sciences Pascale Cossart said: "What characterises Valerie Mizrahi's work is not only her excellent research on Mycobacterium tuberculosis and tuberculosis, but also her very active involvement in the tuberculosis community in South Africa, on the African continent, and internationally."

The Academy of Sciences, which makes awards to the most meritorious scientists and promising research projects, also lauded Mizrahi for her special qualities in mentoring students, particularly those engaged in TB research. In her response to the prize Mizrahi said: "For me the most gratifying part of it is that the award committee recognised my commitment to, and passion for developing people. I've trained so many young scientists - and this award is for them."

She plans to use most of the prize money to hire senior researchers who are able to bring new skills to the laboratory that she runs with IDM colleague Dr Digby Warner, particularly in chemical biology and bioinformatics. "Given the shortage of career opportunities for outstanding early-career scientists who are interested in pursuing a career in biomedical research in South Africa, I believe this would be a great investment," she said. Mizrahi also plans to purchase laboratory equipment, and to provide opportunities for students from the laboratory to travel abroad for specialised training.

The Institute of France consists of five academies with a rich history spanning a few centuries. The Institute's Academy of Sciences was founded in 1666.

 

Stem cell technology aids disease research
Stem Cell Team

Team talk: (From left, back) Drs Lauren Watson, Melissa Nel, and Robyn Rautenbach. (Middle) Dennis Lin, Prof Jeanine Heckmann, Dr Robea Ballo, Danielle Smith, Dr Liz van der Merwe, and Esther van Heerden. (Front) Profs Jacquie Greenberg and Sue Kidson.

The use of stem cells to develop 'disease-in-a-dish' models, for studying disease aetiology and for drug screening, is gaining popularity worldwide.

The UCT Stem Cell Initiative, headed by Professors Sue Kidson and Jacquie Greenberg (IDM Members) and comprising scientists and students from the departments of cell biology, human genetics, neurology and other departments at UCT, is using a groundbreaking new technology, pioneered by 2012 Nobel prize winner Shinya Yamanaka, to turn cultured skin cells into stem cells.

Theoretically, these cells, termed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), can be differentiated into any cell type in the body, making them an ideal source of cells for the study of diseases affecting inaccessible tissues, such as the eyes and brain. "Since these iPSCs are derived from adult skin, they also bypass many ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cell research," said Kidson.

In collaboration with researchers in Oxford and Japan, scientists from the UCT Stem Cell Initiative have established the first iPSCs from South African patients suffering from the inherited neurodegenerative disease spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7). This is one type of ataxia among a group of inherited diseases of the central nervous system. Like many other inherited ataxias, SCA7 stems from genetic defects that lead to the impairment of specific nerve fibres carrying messages to and from the brain. The result is a degeneration of the brain's co-ordination centre, the cerebellum.

The group is also in the process of deriving cells from patients with the neuromuscular disorder myasthenia gravis. Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterised by varying degrees of weakness of the skeletal muscles. A number of other conditions are being considered, which will be used for future investigations into disease modelling and possible therapeutic screening.

 

Vitamin B12 transporter is key to understanding TB pathogen
from UCT Daily News, 26 March 2013
Group photo

New findings: In the laboratory, Prof Valerie Mizrahi with Drs Digby Warner (middle) and Krishnamoorthy Gopinath, postdoctoral research fellow.

A paper published recently in Open Biology, a new journal of the Royal Society, has pinpointed the transporter of vitamin B12 in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium which causes tuberculosis (TB). The finding represents an important contribution to understanding the ability of the TB bacterium to cause disease - in particular, the possibility that it has the capacity to scavenge vitamin B12 from its human host.

This research, which was led by a team of scientists from the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit at UCT's Institute for Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), will also shape thinking in related areas of microbiological research: it turns out that the system used by the TB bacterium is quite distinct from previously known bacterial B12 transporters.

Humans and plants don't make their own supplies of vitamin B12. It comes from a diet or food chain that includes 'contaminating micro-organisms', in other words, bacteria that can manufacture the vitamin.

But not all bacteria make B12. Surprisingly, the TB bacterium is among those which can, yet it also comes armed with the ability to take it up from its host, possibly indicating the importance of vitamin B12 to the lifestyle of this major human pathogen.

Plotting this pathway should have been easy for the scientists. However, the TB bacterium's transport mechanism is nothing like those found in common bacteria such as Escherichia coli, or Salmonella. Instead, it is genetically related to human B12 transporters.

The uptake of vitamin B12 in the TB bacterium has long puzzled researchers working to prise open its defences. The protein, designated Rv1819c, provides new possibilities for interventions.

The paper caps a four-year project that harnessed a multi-disciplinary team from research institutions in South Africa, Switzerland, Lithuania, and the US. A collaboration between the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne and UCT lay at the core of the work, and was funded by the Switzerland-South Africa Joint Research Programme as part of a bilateral agreement between the Swiss and South African governments.

With IDM director Professor Valerie Mizrahi serving as the South African principal investigator on this Swiss-South Africa collaboration, it's another plaudit for the IDM, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year.

The UCT team of Dr Digby Warner and postdoctoral research fellow Dr Krishnamoorthy Gopinath ('Gopi') led the project, applying a combination of innovative genetic and molecular tools to identify the protein that transports vitamin B12 in the TB bacterium.

Gopinath has a PhD in microbiology from the All India Institute of Medical Science in New Delhi, sister city of Johannesburg, where he first came to work as a postdoctoral research fellow in Mizrahi's previous research team at Wits University.

Warner followed an unlikely path to medical microbiology. He was an accountant at a paint and chemical factory until one day he took a call on the helpline. The customer complained of peeling paint. The factory's chemist provided a simple answer: incompatible surface chemistry. This sparked a continuing fascination with science that saw Warner return to university to initially study chemistry and later, molecular biology.

At the IDM, the team has does long-term work, trying to understand at molecular and microbiological levels what makes the TB organism work.

In previous experiments, a US research group had tested a mutant strain lacking the Rv1819c protein in a mouse model of TB. They found that the mice became infected, but did not die as quickly. But they couldn't work out why.

"They didn't know what the protein did. We've shown that it's critically important for B12 uptake," said Warner.

The findings are significant. TB is remarkably efficient; passing from one infected human to infect another, surviving and growing rapidly, primarily in the lungs. South Africa bears a huge burden of TB, with approximately 1% of the population affected by the disease.

"In South Africa, we are in the eye of the storm, as HIV provides fertile soil for TB and other opportunistic pathogens," said Warner.

There is however, a twist to this microbiological tale. The fact that the TB bacterium is able to take up a huge molecule like B12 is a big surprise. It is renowned for its tough, almost impenetrable cell wall which resists most molecules, frustrating those who work in drug development.

It's this question that will determine the future of Gopinath's research: Does the TB bacterium also take up other forms of B12, perhaps in the form of B12 precursor molecules? If so, is the TB bacterium an opportunist rather than a scavenger?

"The finding may not lead to a drug candidate, but it will provide some clues into how the TB bacillus takes up some very large molecules, and could shape thinking in other areas of microbiological research too," he said.

The results also present a theoretical possibility: that biochemists can design TB drugs as conjugate molecules, in other words, antibiotics piggybacking on the B12 molecule, a chemical Trojan Horse at it were.

While there is always a translational component required in this kind of research (new drugs, etc), the excitement is that they are on the threshold of new knowledge.

"We don't know yet, but we're revealing new capacity of this organism that we're hoping will take us somewhere," says Gopinath.

"It's about understanding the enemy," adds Warner.

 

CONGRATULATIONS to Professor Gordon Brown

Professor Gordon Brown, Adjunct Member of the IDM and Professor of Immunology, Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, has been elected a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is Scotland's National Academy. Its mission is to advance learning and useful knowledge and by doing so it supports the cultural, economic and social well-being of Scotland and its people. It is not influenced by causes promoted by others and is an important source of independent expertise across the whole range of intellectual, business and public life in Scotland.

Since its establishment in 1783, it has made a major contribution to Scottish Society through its Fellows. It is unique in Britain and distinctive internationally in the breadth of its Fellowship, which ranges across the sciences, medicine, engineering, the social sciences, arts, humanities, business and public service. Amongst its wide range of activities it provides: independent advice to Government and Parliament; research and enterprise Fellowships; education programmes for young people; and conferences and events aimed at both public engagement and specialists. Sir John Arbuthnott, RSE President and eminent microbiologist, commented "Every year the competition for places is intense and this year is no different..."

 

Coveted WUN grants for UCT researchers
Based on UCT Daily News 7 March 2013

Naomi LevittTolu Oni

Two UCT research projects have been awarded coveted grants by the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) for vital research into crucial public health issues. One project involves Professor Naomi Levitt, head of the Division of Diabetic Medicine and Endocrinology, and Dr Tolullah Oni, senior research medical officer based in CIDRI, IDM.

This year the WUN's Research Development Fund (RDF) awarded grants to 25 projects around the globe, spanning diverse subjects, from urban agriculture, to migration, to the internationalisation of the Chinese higher education system. RDF grants are aimed at catalysing bids to external funding sources, including partnerships with international agencies, research publications, and input into policy.

Levitt and Oni's project examines non-communicable/communicable disease syndemics in transitional societies. Levitt said she was "delighted" with the grant, which would mean she and Oni would be able to set up a colloquium later in the year involving other WUN members involved in the research, as well as a wider audience. The grant will allow them to establish a cross-disciplinary network to evaluate the interactions between diseases like tuberculosis, diabetes and HIV/AIDS.

 

Collaboration with pharmaceutical giant will foster drug development in Africa
from UCT Daily News, 1 March 2013
Kelly Chibale

A collaboration between Professor Kelly Chibale's Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) and Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) was announced on 28 February at NIBR headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the Health Equity Symposium: Science & Medicine in Africa. This is an important step towards bridging the gap between basic science and clinical research, building drug discovery and development capabilities in Africa and educating the next generation of drug discovery scientists in Africa.

H3-D is the first drug discovery centre in Africa, with an initial focus on TB and malaria. Last year, the first compound developed by H3-D was approved by Medicines for Malaria Venture as a pre-clinical anti-malarial candidate.

A major goal of this collaboration is to develop an FDA-level clinical study site in Cape Town to conduct proof-of-concept studies of new compounds developed at H3-D. Additionally, Novartis will provide H3-D with new chemical starting points for the design of medicines against tuberculosis (TB), and conduct joint programmes on malaria research with the Singapore-based Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD). Key elements of the collaboration include:

  • building capabilities in preclinical and clinical research areas, including a Food and Drug Administration-level clinical study site to test new molecular entities, and establishing research collaborations in malaria and TB;
  • organising scientific exchange programs between Novartis and H3-D scientists to address unmet medical needs in Africa starting with TB and malaria and knowledge sharing in various disciplines, including pharmacology, computational and medicinal chemistry, and clinical sciences. Programmes will include internships, post-doctoral fellowships and sabbaticals both in Cape Town and at Novartis campuses around the world; and
  • financial support from the Novartis Research Foundation to fund training programmes, fellowship grants and laboratory upgrades at H3-D.

Professor Kelly Chibale said: "This partnership with Novartis will augment support already provided by the South African government's Department of Science & Technology and Technology Innovation Agency to build drug discovery and development capabilities on the African continent". Three H3-D scientists have already received training in Novartis on the use of drug discovery technology through the internship program at Novartis global headquarters in Basel, Switzerland and several Novartis scientists have taken or are scheduled to take a sabbatical at H3-D.

 

Single-dose cure for malaria is Elsevier review's top story
from UCT Daily News, 15 February 2013
Kelly Chibale

Good news: Prof Kelly Chibale.

The news of a possible single-dose cure for all strains of malaria not only dominated headlines worldwide following its release in August last year, but Elsevier's Malaria Nexus review voted it their most popular story of 2012.

The news detailed the discovery that a compound, MMV390048, from the aminopyridine class, has the potential to become part of a single-dose cure for all strains of malaria - and could also block transmission of the parasite from person to person.

The research was done by a collaborative team from the Medicines for Malaria Venture, based in Switzerland, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Monash University in Australia, Syngene in India and the Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) at UCT, directed by founder Professor Kelly Chibale.

It was first reported in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

"We're very pleased about this announcement by Malaria Nexus," said Chibale. "We feel greatly honoured to have had our malaria clinical candidate announcement voted top story for 2012, especially considering the variety and diversity in the top ten stories listed."

(Part of the Reed Elsevier group based in Amsterdam, Elsevier is a leading publisher of medical and scientific literature. It also operates in the US and the UK. Its best-known publications include journals such as The Lancet and Cell, books like Gray's Anatomy and ScienceDirect, a collection of electronic journals.)

 

SATVI's data from historic Phase IIb clinical trial for tuberculosis vaccine candidate MVA85A published in The Lancet. 5 February 2013

Data were published in The Lancet yesterday from a Phase IIb clinical trial evaluating the safety and efficacy of MVA85A in preventing tuberculosis (TB) in infants. MVA85A is a TB vaccine candidate designed to boost immune responses already primed by the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, the only licensed vaccine to prevent TB. It is used extensively with approximately 100 million newborns being vaccinated globally each year (World Health Organization). While BCG can prevent severe forms of TB in some children, its widespread use in infants has failed to control the global epidemic. MVA85A is the first novel, preventive TB vaccine candidate since BCG to complete a Phase IIb safety and efficacy study.

Funding for this clinical trial was provided by Aeras, a nonprofit biotech with a social mission to develop TB vaccines, The Wellcome Trust, and the Oxford-Emergent Tuberculosis Consortium (OETC), a joint venture between the University of Oxford and Emergent BioSolutions. This Phase IIb study was sponsored by Aeras and conducted by the University of Cape Town's South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), located within the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine. The vaccine was originally developed and investigated by the University of Oxford.

Data disappointingly show that a single dose of MVA85A is not sufficient to confer statistically significant protection against TB disease or infection in infants who had been vaccinated at birth with BCG. The vaccine candidate also did not provide statistically significant protection from infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB. The study was successful in that the vaccine was well tolerated, there was no evidence of any harm to the trial participants, and it gave a clear answer. This study also showed it is possible to conduct a large infant efficacy clinical trial in an area of high TB incidence with robust endpoints for detecting disease, something that is expected to greatly benefit future testing of TB vaccine candidates. Thus the study has been hailed as "landmark" and "watershed", and affirms SATVI's position as the leading TB vaccine group in the world.

"Although the results of this first efficacy trial of a new TB vaccine are not what we had hoped for, further analysis of the data should reveal a great deal about how the body's immune system protects against TB and what is necessary to develop an effective vaccine," said senior author Prof. Helen McShane, a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and the original developer of the vaccine. "The results from this study should let us know far more about the type and level of immune response required, and that will boost future efforts to develop an effective TB vaccine .... The difficulty of this task is one reason why there has not been a new TB vaccine since BCG was developed more than 90 years ago, but one is still urgently needed ...."

Aeras commented: "Vaccine development is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and the scientific community has only become fully engaged in the development of TB vaccines in the last decade .... The valuable scientific understanding gained from this trial will provide crucial information for the robust global portfolio of more than a dozen other TB vaccines undergoing clinical testing, a number that was unimaginable a decade ago."

SATVI: "We are proud to have completed the first efficacy trial of a new TB vaccine in 90 years, and believe the results will guide the TB vaccine field in the future," said Prof. Willem Hanekom, director of the South African TB Vaccine Initiative (SATVI). "The TB epidemic in our country is devastating - half a million South Africans develop the disease every year. Prevention by an effective vaccine would be the best way to get the epidemic under control. With this goal in mind, our group will continue to test multiple new vaccine candidates in the Worcester area. We are very grateful for the commitment of the local community in this effort."

For further commentary and other links see:
www.dw.de/researchers-upbeat-despite-failed-tb-trial/a-16576820

 

Lyn Denny admitted as Fellow ad eundem, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
Lyn Denny

Professor Lynette Denny, Member of the IDM, was recently awarded the Fellowship ad eundem of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London, a wonderful honour and recognition of her significant contributions to the advancement of the science and art of obstetrics and gynaecology. Professor Denny is seen here with Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, Professor and Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, St George's University of London and President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

 

 

CONGRATULATIONS for recent honours, promotions and appointments

To the following Members of the IDM

Robin Wood, who received his DSc (Med) at the Faculty's graduation ceremony held on 18 December. The DSc is the highest degree offered at the University and is a very rare distinction awarded in recognition of seminal contributions at a global level. Robin is a Founding Member of the IDM. He served, for many years, on the Membership Committee, and recently returned to serve a second term on the Institute's Executive Committee. We are enormously privileged to have an academic of Robin's stature within the Institute.

Lynette Denny, on her appointment as Head of Department and Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Linda-Gail Bekker and Arieh Katz, on their ad hominem promotions to Full Professor, and Jo-Anne Passmore and Katalin Wilkinson on their promotion to Associate Professor.

To Keertan Dheda, Affiliate Member of the IDM, on his appointment as Professor of Pulmonology and Head of the Division of Pulmonology in the Department of Medicine.

 

New grant helps researchers understand how we fight TB
from UCT Monday Paper, 12 December 2012
Prof Willem Hanekom

Lens on protection: SATVI director Prof Willem Hanekom will lead a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project to determine how humans protect themselves against TB.

UCT's South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) has secured a R41.6 million (US $4.7 million) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a project to learn how humans protect themselves against tuberculosis (TB).

About half a million new cases of TB occur in South Africa each year. Worldwide, 1.4 million people die from TB each year. New vaccines are needed to prevent the disease, as are better diagnostic tools and new drugs. Progress toward these interventions requires a better understanding of how our bodies fight TB.

This is the goal of the funded project, which will be led by Professor Willem Hanekom, SATVI director.

"We are delighted about the funding, which will allow us to use the most modern and innovative laboratory tools to address our scientific questions," he said.

The researchers aim to discover "signatures of risk of TB disease" - in lay terms, indicators or markers that can be measured in blood long before a person develops TB, to indicate if that person is at risk of disease. Once these markers are known, it is anticipated that treatment programmes could then target persons at risk to prevent disease. Identification of the markers will also provide insight into mechanisms our bodies use to fight TB; in turn, this information may be used to develop new vaccines, diagnostics and drugs.

The project will be a collaborative effort between seven African and five European/US research groups. Over the past seven years, these groups have enrolled and followed persons from households of TB patients at multiple African sites. Blood samples were collected during this time. Persons who developed lung TB during follow-up were identified. Stored blood samples from these TB cases, and from matched controls (persons who did not develop TB), will now be retrieved to look for differences that may indicate risk of TB disease. UCT, Stellenbosch University, Seattle Biomed from the United States of America, and the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Germany will play prominent roles in the analysis of the blood samples.

The project will complement and build on two other projects already ongoing at SATVI: these studies aim to identify signatures of risk in different research populations. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has already contributed at least R52 million (US$6 million) towards the funding of these projects.

 

Leading scholar visits UCT
from UCT Daily News, 13 December 2012
Dr Alan Bernstein

Famed: the visiting Dr Alan Bernstein shared latest research and opportunities with UCT staff and students recently.

It's not often that a distinguished international dignitary takes time out to mentor emerging researchers, and share news on the latest research developments and funding opportunities.

But Dr Alan Bernstein, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Institutes for Advanced Research (CIFAR), did so recently for members of UCT's Faculty of Health Sciences, at the invitation of Professor Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM).

In a packed three days, Bernstein delivered a seminar, met early and mid-career IDM researchers, and mentored postdoctoral research fellows and PhD students. He also met with senior scientists, and with Professor Danie Visser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, to explore possible opportunities within CIFAR's existing global research networks.

"My discussions with faculty were very positive," Bernstein noted. "I have not sensed as much optimism about the future - about the scientific advances being made in our ability to diagnose and treat TB, the exciting progress that has been made recently in isolating broadly neutralising antibodies against HIV, and the momentum and energy provided by Professor Mizrahi as the Director of the IDM."

Throughout his career, Bernstein has championed the principles of an open, collaborative global scientific community to meet the scientific, public health and humanitarian challenges posed by health issues, in particular HIV/AIDS. In this regard, he has collaborated with a number of IDM Members.

 

Congratulations to Professors Stein and Myer
from UCT Monday Paper, 26 November 2012

Prof Dan SteinProfessor Dan Stein (right), head of UCTs Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health and director of the Brain-Behaviour Initiative, was recently awarded one of the most prestigious awards for scientific research in Southern Africa; the South Africa Medal (Gold) from the Southern African Association for the Advancement of Science (S2A3). Associate Professor Landon Myer of the Centre of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology and Research in the School of Public Health & Family Medicine received the British Association Medal (Silver), which is also awarded by this association. This is not the first time Stein's efforts in his field have been acknowledged by S2A3; in 2001 he was the recipient of the silver medal. Professors Stein and Myer are both Affiliate Members of the IDM.

 

CAPE TOWN DECLARATION ON VACCINES, 11 NOVEMBER 2012
Unlocking the full potential of childhood vaccines in Africa

First International African Vaccine Conference, 8 to 11 November 2012

The Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA, www.vacfa.com), based in the IDM at UCT hosted the first International African Vaccine Conference (IAVC) in Cape Town, South Africa. The four-day event was organised by Prof Greg Hussey, Dr Charles Shey Wisonge, and Dr Zainab Waggie of VACFA.

The conference focused on critical vaccine and immunisation issues for Africa and the world as we approach the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. More than 500 health workers, program managers, researchers, and representatives of civil society and government came together to discuss the urgent issue of children still dying from common vaccine-preventable diseases in Africa.

The meeting noted that many African children are denied access to existing and new vaccines as a consequence of a lack of political will and of program inefficiency. Delegates were extremely concerned that, amongst other issues:

  • Vaccine preventable diseases still result in more than 1.5 million child deaths per year globally, the majority of which occur in Africa.
  • Many countries do not have access to new life-saving vaccines, such as rotaviral and pneumococcal vaccines, due to prohibitively high prices. Pressure, they said, also must be put on African countries to develop and produce their own vaccines to drive prices down and meet demands.
  • Countries which have introduced new vaccines with donor support, risk losing access in the long term as vaccine prices remain too high.

On its last day, the conference adopted The Cape Town Declaration: Unlocking the full potential of childhood vaccines in Africa.

This declaration covered areas such as advocating for strengthening national childhood immunisation programmes; encouraging regional co-operation; exploring strengthening purchasing power by pooling vaccine demand and procurement; and ensuring African governments commit to saving children's lives. For greater comment see: http://mg.co.za/article/2012-11-16-00-injecting-reality-into-immunisation

Held prior to the Conference in Cape Town was the 8th Annual African Vaccinology Course, 5 to 8 November 2012.

Also organised by VACFA, this very successful course brought together 100 attendees from 30 African countries; including EPI managers, medical doctors, nurses, public health practitioners, academics, and scientists who work in the field of vaccinology on the continent. The objectives of the course were:

  • to provide participants with the necessary expertise to support public vaccination programmes and related activities, and
  • to build sustainable research capacity to develop vaccines and/or to conduct high quality phase 1 to phase lV vaccine trials.

Specifically, the course introduced participants to the various disciplines associated with vaccinology including vaccine advocacy and communication, vaccine development, immunology, microbiology, clinical trials, safety, ethics, economics, evidence-based medicine, and immunisation delivery.

 

Search for TB vaccine reaches a turning point
from UCT Daily News, 19 November 2012

SATVI studyTurning point: Researcher Prof Helen McShane of Oxford University with one of the first babies enrolled in the SATVI study for a TB vaccine.

The search by the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) for a new TB vaccine for infants has entered its closing phase, with all visits complete and data cleaning in progress.

The results that will show if the vaccine candidate MVA85A that was administered to nearly 2,800 babies from July 2009 to May 2011 is successful in preventing TB, are expected to be released in February 2013, according to Dr Hassan Mahomed, senior clinical researcher at SATVI and principal investigator on the trial.

SATVI, located in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, is the largest dedicated TB vaccine research group on the African continent. Its objective is to find new, effective, affordable vaccines to save hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide.

Mahomed explained that this vaccine has previously undergone extensive testing and found to be safe.

"With this trial, we will find out for the first time if the vaccine protects against TB," he pointed out. If the results are positive, further testing will still be needed before it can be rolled out for public use but this will be a major milestone in the search for a new TB vaccine.

The trial was conducted in towns in the Cape Winelands East Region, including Robertson, Worcester and Ceres, and is expected to be completed in early December. It is a collaborative initiative between SATVI, US-based Aeras and Emergent Biosolutions, as well as the Wellcome Trust and the University of Oxford.

Mahomed said that after four and half years of hard work, everyone is excited to have reached this stage.

"There have been many challenges along the way, but we have always managed to overcome them. We will be making history for UCT, and confirm our place as the best research site globally to do TB vaccine trials."

 

CONGRATULATIONS!

Three of the six newly elected Fellows of the Royal Society of South Africa are associated with the IDM.

Our sincere congratulations to Professor Carolyn Williamson (Full Member of the IDM and Head of Dept, Medical Virology, UCT), Professor Gordon Brown (Adjunct Member of the IDM) and Professor Dan Stein (Affiliate Member of the IDM and Head of Dept, Psychiatry and Mental Health, UCT). A proud moment for all.

 

UCT scholar in new AIDS vaccine development
from UCT Daily News, 30 October 2012
Prof Carolyn Williamson

New ground: Prof Carolyn Williamson is part of a team of scientists investigating a new approach to developing an AIDS vaccine.

UCT's Professor Carolyn Williamson is one of the lead investigators on a ground-breaking study that has discovered an important new approach for developing an AIDS vaccine.

Williamson, of the Divison of Medical Virology and the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine in the Faculty of Health Sciences, is part of a Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) consortium that has conducted the research over the past five years.

The study, published in the latest Nature Medicine journal, describes how a unique change in the outer covering of the virus, found in two HIV-infected South African women, enabled them to make potent antibodies that are able to kill up to 88% of HIV types from around the world.

Through long-term follow-up laboratory studies on these two women, the investigation team discovered that a sugar (known as a glycan) on the surface protein coat of the virus at a specific position (referred to as position 332) forms a site of vulnerability in the virus and enables the body to mount a broadly neutralising antibody response.

Williamson, who has a joint appointment with the National Health Laboratory Service, noted that HIV is a rapidly evolving virus and, as a result, the viruses circulating in the world have diversified into many different subtypes.

"One of the biggest obstacles in HIV research is to make vaccines that can elicit antibodies - called broadly neutralising antibodies - that would prevent infection with any one of these subtypes."

In this study, Williamson continued, potent antibodies were identified that could effectively block nearly 90% of viruses tested, including viruses from Africa, America, Europe and Asia.

"The advancement made in this paper is that a mechanism was identified on how these antibodies evolve in HIV infected people, and this is important as it can provide us with clues on how to design vaccines what could generate these types of responses."

UCT members who contributed to the study are post-graduate students Daniel Sheward and Melissa-Rose Abrahams, as well as post-doctoral fellow Nobubelo Ngandu.

 

Professor Karen Sliwa receives Australian research grant
from UCT Daily News, 17 October 2012

Karen Sliwa

Professor Karen Sliwa, director of UCT's Hatter Institute for Cardiology Research in Africa and Associate Member of the IDM, has together with several Australian collaborators, been awarded a R25 million research grant by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. The grant will go towards building research capacity in reducing inequality in heart disease in South Africa and Australia. One of the research projects this money is earmarked for is the Hatter Institute's Heart of Africa Study. The money will support PhD students and pay for equipment and running expenses, and will allow progress on research projects aimed at a reduction of the precursors of heart disease in pregnancy, or identifying those conditions earlier to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality related to cardiovascular disease.

Sliwa's long-time collaborator, Professor Simon Stewart of the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia and Honorary Professor at the Hatter Institute, is among the chief investigators for this grant. "This is one of a few South-South collaborations," Sliwa said in reaction to the good news. "The funding will strengthen our collaboration with the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute."

 

Professor Nicola Mulder recipient of NIH funding to support genomic studies in Africa
Nicola Mulder

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Wellcome Trust are working together on the H3Africa project which aims to improve the health of Africans through the study of genomics and environmental determinants of common diseases. The H3Africa initiative will help develop expertise among African scientists, foster increased collaboration among African investigators, enhance the infrastructure for genomics research in Africa, and contribute to the training of the next generation of African researchers in the use of contemporary genomic approaches in the study of important health problems.

The inaugural H3Africa projects were announced recently at a meeting of the principal investigators, representing 22 African countries, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Professor Nicola Mulder is one of the successful principal investigators, receiving NIH funds for her programme: H3ABioNet: A Sustainable African Bioinformatics Network for H3Africa. Prof Mulder is Head of the Computational Biology Group, IDM, University of Cape Town (UCT), which forms the centre of bioinformatics activities at UCT. This group will lead the project to develop a Pan-African Bioinformatics network involving over 30 institutions in Africa to support the H3Africa project.

"H3Africa aims to transform the way science is conducted in Africa, by creating a sustainable research infrastructure and catalyzing the use of advanced genomic technologies to improve our understanding of a variety of diseases," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins.

"This program will enable African researchers to study African populations, to solve African problems and to train the next generation of African scientists." said Charles N. Rotimi, Director of the trans-NIH Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health.

More details can be seen here:
http://www.genome.gov/27550235

 

Snake venom could be used to design new heart disease drugs

09 October 2012

Ed Sturrock

Research led by Professor K Ravi Acharya at the University of Bath, in collaboration with Professor Edward Sturrock of the IDM (University of Cape Town) and Professor Elwyn Isaac (University of Leeds), has identified two possible new routes for developing novel drugs for high blood pressure and heart disease. The research was published in the prestigious Nature Journal Scientific Reports.

The scientists created images of the 3D molecular structures of two peptides, including one from snake venom, that inhibit angiotensin-I converting enzyme (ACE), a key protein that regulates blood pressure. ACE inhibitors, such as the drug Captopril, are taken by millions of people to treat high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart disease. However the drugs cause side effects such as a persistent cough and angioedema (swelling of the face and throat).

For more information, see:
http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/2012/10/09/snake-venom-heart-disease-drugs/

 

Coup for TB researcher
from UCT Daily News, 28 September 2012
Val Mizrahi

World leader: Prof Valerie Mizrahi has won a major international grant.

The number 13 is usually considered unlucky.

But not when you're UCT's Professor Valerie Mizrahi, and you have been named as one of "13 of the world's leading basic-science researchers" to receive the prestigious and princely Senior International Research Scholar (SIRS) awards, made by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in the US.

Winning the award is more than a matter of luck, though. They are made to "support outstanding biomedical scientists working outside the United States who have made significant contributions to fundamental research in the biological sciences", according to the HHMI.

Mizrahi, director of UCT's Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), was selected for her work on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the organism that causes human tuberculosis.

"Scientific research is a global endeavor, and these grants will provide an opportunity for these highly creative and accomplished scientists to explore new avenues of biomedical research, and to mentor promising early career scientists across the world," said HHMI president, Robert Tjian.

The awards are certainly generous. Each HHMI senior international research scholar will receive a grant of $100,000 per year over five years.

But it's not the cash value of the award - her third from the HHMI - that matters so much, says Mizrahi.

"It's a tremendous and singular honour to be selected as one of this group," she comments.

More than that, it allows Mizrahi, per the aim of the award, and the other 12 recipients - hailing from Australia, Canada, Europe and Latin America - to serve as mentors to HHMI's network of international early career scientists. (The HHMI had this year unveiled a new initiative, the International Early Career Scientist Programme.)

"What inspired me is the focus on mentoring early career scientists," Mizrahi says. "That's where my passion is and that's what I want to throw my energy into."

 

CONGRATULATIONS! to Professor Carolyn Williamson
Carolyn Williamson

Professor Carolyn Williamson has been elected as a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, an honour. This recognises the important contribution Professor Williamson has made to HIV research in South Africa.

 

 

 

 

Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellowship Award

Graeme MeintjesHearty congratulations to Professor Graeme Meintjes who has been awarded a prestigious Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine. He was previously the recipient of a Wellcome Trust Training Fellowship from 2007-2011. The Intermediate Fellowship has been awarded for 5 years and he will take it up from 1 January 2013. He will continue to be based at the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine within the Wellcome Trust-funded Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI).

The study that is funded by this fellowship is entitled: "Defining interventions to reduce mortality in severe HIV-associated tuberculosis". TB is the commonest cause of death among HIV-infected people in Africa. In 2007, there were an estimated 378,000 deaths due to HIV-associated TB in Africa and 94,000 in South Africa. Young adults are worst affected. HIV-associated TB has become one of the most common reasons for adult hospital admission in Africa, and mortality among patients hospitalised with HIV-associated TB is particularly high. In addition to TB treatment, there are evidence-based interventions that reduce mortality in HIV-associated TB patients (particularly early initiation of antiretroviral therapy and co-trimoxazole prophylaxis). Yet despite these interventions, case fatality rates for hospitalized patients with HIV-associated TB remain high, with many of the deaths occurring before patients start antiretroviral therapy. There are few detailed studies that define the pathophysiology of severe TB in HIV-infected patients and the contributors to and mechanisms of death. The proposed study will address why patients die despite availability of TB treatment, early ART and cotrimoxazole prophylaxis. An improved understanding of the pathophysiology, immunopathogenesis, pharmacokinetics and role of co-infections in patients with severe HIV-associated TB and their contribution to mortality will allow the investigators to propose novel interventions to improve acute management strategies for hospitalised patients with HIV-associated TB aimed at reducing mortality.

 

Antiretroviral therapy guidelines

The Southern African HIV Clinicians Society has recently published updated guidelines for antiretroviral therapy in adult patients in Southern Africa (September 2012). The guidelines were developed by a panel of senior HIV clinicians from around South Africa. The panel was chaired by Professor Graeme Meintjes (an Associate Member of the IDM) and Gary Maartens (Head of Division of Clinical Pharmacology at UCT). The updated guidelines include sections on the following: indications for starting ART, what ART regimen to start, ART toxicity monitoring and management, treating HIV-TB co-infection and second and third-line therapy.

The guidelines can be accessed via the SA HIV Clinicians Society website

 

Congratulations to Dan Stein

Congratulations to Professor Dan Stein, Affiliate Member of the IDM, on being awarded the SAMA Fellowship in Art & Science of Medicine Award for 2012.

This prestigious award is given to an individual with an iconic international footprint who has won international acclaim for excellence in the practice of medicine both as an Art and a Science, and has championed the cause of healthcare despite obstacles.

Dan will receive his award in October 2012 at a function in Johannesburg.

 

Congratulations to Kelly Chibale

Kelly Chibale Congratulations! to Professor Kelly Chibale on being named the National Research Foundation's Champion of Research and Capacity Development at Higher Education Institutions in South Africa for 2012.

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to Lynette Denny
Lynette Denny

Congratulations! to Professor Lynette Denny on being selected as the winner in the SAMA Extra-Ordinary Service to Medicine Award Category for 2012.  

Professor Denny will receive this prestigious award at a ceremony in Johannesburg next month. the award acknowledges her outstanding contribution to Medicine and the fact that she 'pursued with single-minded purpose a chosen area of interest and has made a substantial contribution in the research promotion and advancement of that field'. In making this award to Lyn, SAMA also recognized that her work 'extends beyond the ordinary terrain of medicine and into the wider community and Nation'.


Inaugural Wolfson Colloquium a fitting tribute to the Foundation
from UCT Daily News, 11 September 2012
Dr Max Price, Prof Marian Jacobs and Baron Peter Piot

Showing appreciation: (From left) Dr Max Price, Prof Marian Jacobs and Baron Peter Piot at the first Wolfson Memorial Colloquium.

The Wolfson Memorial Colloquium, held for the first time on 4 September, is set to become a regular fixture on the UCT events calendar.

The colloquium is in acknowledgement of the generous contributions by Lord Wolfson of Marylebone and the Wolfson Foundation to the university, and was appropriately held in the Wolfson Pavilion that is now home to the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) on the university's medical campus. The Pavilion was built with funds donated by the foundation, whose contributions to the university over the years have amounted to over £2 million (R24 million).

The theme of the colloquium, Generating Knowledge against Poverty, was chosen to align with that of UCT's Carnegie conference, Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality: Towards Carnegie 3, which ran concurrently. Speakers at the multi-disciplinary colloquium were chosen to cover a range of health areas relevant to people living in poverty. They included Professor Valerie Mizrahi, director of the IDM; Professor Kelly Chibale, director of the Drug Discovery and Development Centre, Department of Chemistry and a Member of the IDM; and Professor Di McIntyre of the Health Economics Unit.

"All of the speakers are researchers whose teams are conducting cutting-edge research with a focus on reducing the burden of diseases associated with poverty," said Professor Marian Jacobs, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, who together with Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price hosted the event.

The keynote address was delivered by Baron Peter Piot, Professor of Global Health at and director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, whose topic was A New Agenda for Global Health.

 

African research identifies strong candidate for single-dose malaria cure
from Monday Paper, 3 September 2012
malaria_cure

Big news: Prof Kelly Chibale (centre), here with Dr Tim Wells of MMV and Minister Naledi Pandor, speaks about the compound MMV390048 that he and international collaborators hope will lead to the development of a single-dose treatment for malaria.

A compound discovered by a UCT drug discovery programme has been selected by MMV for its potent activity against multiple points in the malaria parasite's lifecycle.

A recently-discovered compound - named MMV390048 - from the aminopyridine class not only has the potential to become part of a single-dose cure for all strains of malaria, but might also be able to block transmission of the parasite from person to person, according to a research collaboration involving the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), based in Switzerland, and the Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) at UCT, directed by founder Professor Kelly Chibale.

This was announced at UCT on 28 August.

On the basis of initial results it was selected by MMV for further development - making it the first compound researched on African soil to enter preclinical development in partnership with MMV.

An African solution to save lives

Naledi Pandor, the Minister of Science & Technology, said: "This is a significant victory in the battle to alleviate the burden of disease in the subcontinent. Clearly the war on this disease is not yet won, but I am excited by the role that our excellent scientists have played in this milestone in finding a potential cure for malaria, and possibly preventing its transmission.

"Congratulations to Professor Kelly Chibale and all involved. This is evidence of the world-class science being done in South Africa and the continent, and of the power of continental and international scientific collaboration in the multidisciplinary approaches that are essential to addressing the societal challenges of our time."

Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price said: "H3-D was founded at UCT in 2010 for this very purpose: to develop African expertise towards solving the health problems that beset the developing world. We trust this clinical candidate is the first of many contributions Professor Chibale and his team will be making to the advancement of international medicine."

 

Congratulations to Steve Lawn

Steve LawnCongratulations to our Adjunct Member of the IDM Professor Steve Lawn, formerly based at the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre (DTHC) at the IDM and now fulltime at the Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and his colleagues Professors Robin Wood and Linda-Gail Bekker (both of the DTHC) whose recent paper as below recently received an award from the International AIDS Society for the most highly cited paper in the journal AIDS during the calendar year 2011.

Lawn SD, Myer L, Edwards DJ, Bekker LG, Wood R. Short-term and long-term risk of tuberculosis associated with CD4 cell response to antiretroviral therapy in South Africa. AIDS 2009; 23: 1717-25.

Professor Lawn has also just been awarded the Chalmers Medal by the Royal Society of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, to be presented later this month. The Chalmers Medal is an award for Scientific Excellence based on published research and peer nomination. Congratulations again, outstanding achievements for outstanding research.

 

'Knowing the enemy' a necessity in the fight against TB
from UCT Daily News, 30 August 2012
Valerie Mizrahi

Fighting fit: The inaugural lecture of Prof Valerie Mizrahi highlighted her contribution, together with collaborators and students, to the ongoing fight against tuberculosis.

Professor Valerie Mizrahi's enthusiasm and passion for her subject, Mycobacterium tuberculosis - better known as the bacterium that causes tuberculosis - was evident as she chronicled her journey as a TB researcher in an inaugural lecture delivered on 22 August.

Mizrahi, director of UCT's Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine (IDM), shared some of the highlights of her career and in the process paid homage to her students and collaborators in the fight against the dreaded disease.

Dr Max Price, vice-chancellor, described Mizrahi's inaugural lecture, titled Knowing the Enemy: Understanding the survival and subversion strategies of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, as a "celebration" instead of an "ascent to professorship".

Mizrahi stated that the tubercle bacillus, aka TB, is "the enemy by virtue of what it has done to humanity". Worldwide there are 1.5 million TB deaths and 9 million new cases are recorded each year.

"A sobering way of thinking of what we are up against is that there is a death from tuberculosis every 20 seconds."

She calculated that in the time that it took her to deliver her lecture, no fewer than 200 people worldwide would have died from the disease. And yet, drug-susceptible TB is curable.

Both her parents are tuberculosis survivors, told Mizrahi, but the real reason for her continued involvement in the field was that it is "just an incredibly exciting field to work in and it is the science which has inspired me".

Mizrahi, who completed a doctorate in chemistry, is interested in how the tuberculosis bacterium survives in the hostile environments it encounters in the human host, and how it builds resistance to drugs.

The bug survives its hostile environments because it does not react to adversity in the same way that other organisms do, she explained. Instead of succumbing to the stresses imposed by its environment, the tubercle bacillus can turn the "stress to an advantage". Mizrahi recalled how in an experiment former student Helena Boshoff deliberately damaged the bacterium's DNA, only for it to respond by mutating and becoming drug-resistant.

Another survival mechanism the bacterium employs in an environment with a severe lack of oxygen, is "holding its breath. In the absence of oxygen TB can survive - but not divide - by respiring on nitrate". This, according to Mizrahi, "might underlie the great difficulty we have in killing this bacillus with drugs that target actively replicating organisms".

In closing she remarked that one of the reasons she returned to UCT, where she obtained her doctorate, was to become more directly involved in tuberculosis drug discovery.

"There is an urgent need for new TB drugs. Ten years ago there were no drugs in clinical development, now there are 10, but we must continue to fuel the pipeline for new drugs.

"In a country with one of the worst TB problems in the world, it is up to us to shoulder our responsibility to tackle it."

She ended by describing her fellow researchers as "among the leading TB scientists in the world".

Listen to the podcast of Mizrahi's lecture.

 

DST Woman in Science Awards
August 2012

The annual South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) Women in Science Awards aims to recognize outstanding ability and potential in research, to create incentives for women scientists and researchers, and to create role models for young women and girls. This year 3 of our Masters students were of six in total who received the Masters Fellowship Award from DST, on 24 August 2012 in Pretoria, with the awards valued at R20 000 each. Congratulations to Akhona Vava, Narjis Thawer and Sumaiyya Thawer.


L-R: Akhona Vava, Narjis Thawer & Sumaiyya Thawer

Akhona Vava is currently studying towards a Master of Science in Medicine specializing in Medical Biochemistry under the supervision of Dr Luiz Zerbini at the International Centre of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) based within the IDM. Her research is aimed at investigating the role of DCUN1D1 protein in the development and progression of prostate and oesophageal cancer. This is in the hope of potentially identifying novel targets for anti-cancer drugs that can be used in cancer treatment.

Sumaiyya Thawer completed her BSc (Med) Honours degree in 2011 at UCT and is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree in the Division of Immunology under the supervision of Dr William Horsnell (IDM) and Professor Frank Brombacher (ICGEB). Her research is focused on characterizing the role of innate immune cells, specifically macrophages, in memory immunity to helminth (worm) infections. Parasitic helminth infections serve as a major global health problem with a third of all humans infected at any one time. Although drug treatments are effective, the inability to provide long-term protection, along with the rise of drug-resistance, confounds the efficacy of these efforts. A detailed understanding of host immunity to helminthes is therefore likely to be critical to future vaccine design.

Narjis Thawer was awarded a BSc (Med) Honours degree in Immunology and Infectious disease at UCT Medical School. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree under the supervision of Dr Wendy Burgers in the Department of Medical Virology. Narjis's research focuses on investigating the immune defects in macrophage and monocyte responses to Mycobacterium tuberculosis in HIV-TB co-infection. The goal of her research is to determine why HIV-infected people are more susceptible to TB, which she hopes may ultimately help in the development of better vaccines and drugs to treat TB.

 

Claude Leon Foundation Merit Award for Young Lecturer to Dr Bill Horsnell
22 August 2012

Join us in congratulating Dr Bill Horsnell on winning a Claude Leon Foundation Merit Award for Young Lecturers. Bill is a lecturer in the Division of Immunology, Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, and is also an Associate Member of the IDM.

Claude Leon awardsRising stars: Prof Danie Visser (far left) and Advocate Geoff Budlender (far right) with Claude Leon winners (from second from left) Dr Ake Faqereng, Dr Adam West, Dr Tirivanhu Chinyoka and Dr William Hornell

Four up-and-coming UCT scholars received some positive affirmation when they were presented with the university's Claude Leon Foundation Merit Awards for Young Lecturers.

At a ceremony in August, Professor Danie Visser, deputy vice-chancellor responsible for research, and Advocate Geoff Budlender, a trustee of the Claude Leon Foundation, formally presented the awards to the winners - Dr Tirivanhu Chinyoka of the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, Dr Ake Fagereng of the Department of Geological Sciences, Dr William Horsnell of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, and Dr Adam West of the Department of Botany.

The recipients each received R50 000.

The annual awards, in their second year, were established to recognise and assist the work of young academics (younger than 41), and are available to young lecturers in the science, engineering and medical science (excluding clinical research) fields.

The aim is to nurture and strengthen the next generation of scholars by helping them increase the rate of their work published in peer-reviewed journals, leading to promotion opportunities for excellent candidates to senior lecturer and associate professor positions.

 

One-day symposium of presentations by the IDM And MCB Carnegie Corporation PhD students and postdoctoral fellows
Wednesday 25th July 2012

Professor Valerie Mizrahi hosted this symposium in the IDM, and Professor Janet Hapgood from the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town, enthusiastically agreed that her department's Carnegie Corporation students would also participate.

Both the Institute and the MCB student groups presented their on-going research in the field of Infectious Diseases. There were nineteen PhD students and post-doctoral fellows from the IDM and eight from MCB. The students were all well supported by their supervisors as well as Emeritus Professor Bob Millar who has also been involved with mentoring the IDM students. Professor Bert Jacobs, a Fullbright Visiting Scholar, who was hosted by the Department of Virology in the IDM at the time, also attended the day's presentations and kindly closed the meeting, congratulating the students on the extremely high standard of their presentations and the quality of their research.

The topics covered were varied, ranging (amongst others) from Distal Sensory Polyneuropathy in HIV-infected adults, immune activation in HIV infection, antimalarial drug rescue, Th2 cytokines, organisms such as Clostridium difficile, Bacteroides fragilis recA operon and stress response, correlates of risk of tuberculosis disease in adolescents, HIV vaccines and HPV vaccine candidates in plants and neuropsychological deficits in HAART-naïve and HAART-treated children.

 

Symposium collage

 

A small selection of comments from the students and supervisors:

  • Thank you for organizing and hosting a great day yesterday. I really found the talks stimulating.
  • The Symposium was great. I was very impressed by the quality and diversity of the research being supported by the Carnegie Corporation.
  • I think that you met the objectives (very well) of allowing the fellows to gain experience in presenting their work (or part therof) in a concise manner, getting criticism and input from senior scientists, gain confidence in platform speaking and interacting with one another.

Thanks to Kathy Wood, CIDRI manager, for organising the day and providing this feedback.

 

CarnegieMCB


 

 

Fulbright specialist shares on HIV vaccines
from UCT Daily News, 24 July 2012
Bertram Jacobs A meeting of minds: Prof Bertram Jacobs, Fulbright Specialist Award winner, with his UCT host, Prof Anna-Lise Williamson of the IDM.

UCT was the obvious choice for Professor Bertram Jacobs when he won the Fulbright Specialist Award.

Jacobs, a professor in the Centre for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the Arizona State University in the US, has a special interest in HIV education and vaccines and a long-standing relationship with Professor Anna-Lise Williamson, who holds the national chair in vaccinology at UCT's Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine. Thus when it came to choosing his host institution, he did not have to think too hard.

The Fulbright Specialist Programme enables American faculty members to engage in short-term overseas academic endeavours. In his time at UCT - about a month over July and August - Jacobs plans to lecture on HIV vaccines, mentor postgraduate students on vaccinology and HIV, and provide training in HIV prevention.

"Some of my activities so far included meetings with students and faculty members to discuss HIV vaccines," he reports. "I have also been to Khayelitsha to tutor secondary school students, and have been working with UCT graduate students on implementing HIV-prevention education in the township.

Williamson, in turn, welcomes the opportunity to have scholars of the ilk of Jacobs, a virologist with extensive expertise in vaccinology, on-hand to share their experience and knowledge with those at UCT and the IDM.

"It is valuable and intellectually stimulating to have international experts to give seminars and interact with researchers, including postgrad students," she says.

 

Tempered optimism marks TB conference
from UCT Daily News, 13 July 2012

Val MizrahiHopeful: Prof Valerie Mizrahi remarks that, amid the harsh realities of the country's disease burden, there was cause for hope at the recent national TB conference.

"By far the best conference in this series that I have attended."

This is how Professor Valeria Mizrahi, director of UCT's Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) and its Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit, describes the 3rd TB Conference of South Africa, held recently in Durban. Mizrahi was just one of the UCT faces at the conference. Other UCT researchers who presented lectures or convened workshops included Professors Keertan Dheda, Mark Nicol and Robert Wilkinson, and Drs Hassan Mahomed and Thomas Scriba, all linked to the IDM.

According to Mizrahi, the mix of participants was particularly diverse, scientists, clinicians, nurses, technologists, epidemiologists, public health workers, advocates and activists from government, the NGO sector and academia attending - "all united in the fight against TB".

The focus at the conference was on novel diagnostics for TB, in particular, the Xpert MTB/RIF test developed by molecular-diagnostics company Cepheid. South Africa has adopted a phased roll-out of the test across the country, under the auspices of the National Health Laboratory Service.

"Discussions were infused with a sense of optimism created by advances in developing new tools for controlling TB (diagnostics, drugs and vaccines) and the purposeful and determined way in which the government is finally talking about taking an integrated approach to tackling TB and HIV," reports Mizrahi. "However, the optimism was tempered by the harsh reality of a massive disease burden, and the very significant obstacles that we face in addressing this problem," she adds.

 

2011/12 NSTF-BHP Billiton Award winners

Outstanding contributions to science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI) were acknowledged at the 14th NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards gala dinner, Gauteng, 21 June 2012. The objectives of the awards are to celebrate, acknowledge and promote excellence in the South African research and design community by cutting across various sectors, gender and race. The 12 awards were presented by the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor. The awardees included two Associate Members of the IDM, Professor Bongani Mayosi and Professor Heather Zar:

To an Individual for an outstanding contribution to SETI through Management and related activities over the last 5 to 10 years or less

Professor Bongani M Mayosi, whose work in building, managing and leading capacity development in research in the context of the Groote Schuur hospital, which has achieved very significant output, has led to the discovery of genetic causes and prevention of heart disease and clinical features of pericardial tuberculosis.

TW Kambule Award: to an Individual for an outstanding contribution to SETI through Research and its Outputs over the last 5 to 10 years - sponsored by the NRF

Professor Heather J Zar for her research leading to important advances in the understanding and management of childhood pneumonia, TB and asthma.

Our congratulations to them both.

 

Professor Heather Zar receives A2 NRF rating

From the DVC's desk - 12 June 2012

Dear Colleagues and Students

It gives me great pleasure to inform you that Professor Heather Zar, Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, has just been awarded an A2 rating by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

A-ratings are awarded to researchers who are recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their field for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs.

Driven by the large burden of paediatric respiratory illnesses globally and in South Africa, Professor Zar has focused her academic work on lung diseases in children, principally pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV-associated illness and asthma. She has spent over a decade developing strategies to improve child health and has advocated for better access to health for African children.

Her work on the delivery of asthma care in poor areas, in particular the use of plastic bottles as spacers, has been described as having immediate relevance for poor children. She is "one of the few people who is able to cross the divide between developed and developing worlds", according to Andrew Bush, Professor of Paediatric Respirology at Imperial College, London, UK.

Professor Zar graduated with an MBChB from the University of the Witwatersrand and then specialised in paediatrics. This was followed by three years of post-doctoral training in paediatric pulmonology at Columbia University in New York, USA, where she also did her sub-specialty exam as a paediatric pulmonologist.

She then returned to South Africa to the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital (RCWMCH), where she continues to works as a clinician, teacher and researcher in paediatrics and paediatric pulmonology.

In 2000, she completed a PhD at UCT, which focused on lung diseases in HIV-infected children. She was promoted ad hominem to the rank of associate professor in 2003 and to full professor in 2007. She was elected a Fellow of the University of Cape Town in the same year. In September 2008, she was appointed as Chair of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health and in June 2009 as Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at UCT and RCWMCH.

Professor Zar's work has been widely published in leading international and national publications, with 150 peer-reviewed journal articles, several booklets and 10 book chapters.Her work has influenced global practice in diagnosis (e.g. sputum induction for paediatric TB), treatment (e.g. low cost spacer in asthma) and prevention (e.g. isoniazid [INH] prophylaxis in HIV-infected children). She has also contributed to many national and global guidelines on childhood asthma, pneumonia, HIV and TB.

Recently, she was awarded the International Ambulatory Pediatric Research Award from the American Pediatric Association. In 2010 she was given a special award at the International Congress of Paediatric Pulmonology for "outstanding leadership and distinguished service to children with the greatest need". In 2011, she was invited to speak at the opening of the Paediatric session of the American Thoracic Society International Congress in Denver, USA on "Childhood Pneumonia". Her research is supported through major funding agencies including the National Institutes of Health (USA), the European Developing Country Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), Wellcome Trust, Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI), Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Institute, and WHO.

Please join me in congratulating Professor Zar on this important milestone in her career.

Sincerely,

Professor Danie Visser

Deputy Vice-Chancellor

 

'HIV: Surviving under immense pressure' - Inaugural lecture by Professor Carolyn Williamson
23 May 2012

Carolyn WilliamsonUniversity of Cape Town Professor Carolyn Williamson delivered her inaugural lecture about her research into HIV, titled "HIV: Surviving under immense pressure", on 23 May 2012 at 17h30 in the Student Learning Centre Lecture Theatre, Anatomy Building at UCT's Faculty of Health Sciences in Mowbray.

Professor Williamson is the co-developer of the first candidate HIV vaccines to be developed in Africa and tested in clinical trials in both Africa and the USA. In 2001 she was co-winner of the World Technology Award for Health and Medicine in London. Through her research, she hopes to contribute to the development of microbicides and vaccines that can effectively prevent HIV infections.

During the two decades that Professor Williamson has spent in HIV research, she has witnessed the growth of the epidemic to unprecedented levels. Her early research was undertaken in the context of a country wrestling with large societal changes, the socio-economic challenges of the epidemic, and the extremely destructive era of HIV denialism (she was a member of the President Thabo Mbeki's HIV Advisory Panel). Her initial research on HIV-1 diversity tracked the epidemic in South African in the early 1990s. This work demonstrated that the country had two independent HIV epidemics: the data showed that the virus was introduced into the country via two routes, one from southern Africa into heterosexual communities, and the other from the US and/or Europe into homosexual communities. Her later work has focused on understanding how the virus survives the extreme immune pressure within the host, and elucidating why some people are able to control the virus, while others progress rapidly to disease.

Background
Professor Williamson received her PhD in Microbiology in 1988 from UCT, where she conducted research into the possibility of using viruses as biological control agents for use within the agricultural sector. After a brief period at the National Institute for Virology Johannesburg, and a year in Newfoundland Canada, she returned to South Africa in 1990 as a post-doctoral scientist /lecturer at UCT. She was recruited in 1992 by the South African Institute for Medical Research, where she was given a specific brief to work on HIV. She was employed by UCT in 2002, and was appointed Head of Division of Medical Virology in 2010 as a joint appointment with the National Heath Laboratory Service.

Professor Williamson is a senior figure within the HIV research community and participates in numerous national and international consortia, including the Centre for AIDS Programme for Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), the Centre for HIV AIDS Vaccine Immunology, the Collaborative Programme for Vaccine Discovery, the HIV Vaccine Trials Network and the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative. She has played an active role in the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS. She is an executive member of CAPRISA, was a member of the scientific advisory committee of the New York-based International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and currently serves as a member of the scientific advisory committee for the UK HIV/AIDS Vaccine Consortium.

 

Professor Valerie Mizrahi interviewed for BBC World Service broadcast

Valerie MizrahiProfessor Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, (IDM) Faculty of Health Sciences, was invited by the Wellcome Collections, London, to participate in their Exchanges at the Frontier Programme.

The Wellcome Trust was established in 1936 and is now the world's largest independent charitable foundation funding research into human and animal health; and a significant funder of research grants within the health sciences at UCT. Through the same Trust, the Wellcome Collection has been established, a free visitor's destination located in London, UK. It explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The Wellcome Collection also runs an Events Programme called the 'Exchanges at the Frontier' where the public can participate in a series of interviews with international guest speakers. Each interview is recorded for the BBC World Service.

Their guest speaker on the 20 October 2011 was Professor Valerie Mizrahi, who was flown to London especially for this event in her capacity as an international leader in tuberculosis (TB) research. Prof Mizrahi has been at the forefront of developing new responses to the illness for over 15 years.

The interview began with discussions around Prof Mizrahi's own scientific background, her passion for medical research and her determination to bring lifesaving innovations to low-income countries. She then spoke particularly about TB research within South Africa, and within the IDM, and how extensively South African researchers are investigating new diagnostic tools, new drugs and new vaccines. The contributions that the IDM research groups have made to TB and HIV research, in terms of both basic scientific investigation and translation of research into policies, is enormously encouraging.

Once thought to be almost eradicated, WHO estimates that one-third of the world's population is infected with TB. South Africa has the seventh highest TB incidence in the world, and the disease is further exacerbated by high HIV infection rates. HIV compromises the immune system, reawakening latent bacteria into active TB, with the result that in South Africa TB has become the biggest killer of HIV-infected people; it claims over half a million African lives every year.

Prof Mizrahi's interview was broadcast on the 10th and repeated on the 11th December 2011 to a listenership of approximately 40 million people. To listen to her interview, go to:
www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00lzhr6.
Her focus on the role of South African researchers in TB and HIV research, and how they are tackling these diseases has attracted much international attention.

 

Prestigious UCT award to Prof Chibale

The IDM wishes to congratulate Professor Kelly Chibale, a Member of the Institute based in the Department of Chemistry, University of Cape Town, on being awarded the prestigious Alan Pifer Research Award for 2011.

This award is made annually by the UCT Vice Chancellor "to a single researcher at UCT in recognition of outstanding welfare-related research that demonstrates relevance to the advancement and welfare of South Africa's disadvantaged people". The award highlights the strategic goal of promoting socially responsive research. The prize was established to honour Alan Pifer, philanthropist and former president of long-term UCT benefactors, the Carnegie Corporation, who passed away in 2005.

Our congratulations to Professor Chibale.

 

IDM under the microscope

from UCT Daily news, 24 Nov 2011

UCT's Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) has, through its network of scholars and researchers, in quick time forged itself a serious reputation.

But it is work and goal-setting that calls for regular reviewing. So recently the IDM's international scientific advisory committee (ISAC) gathered in Cape Town to do exactly that.

The ISAC, which meets every two to three years, is made up of 12 respected scientists from South Africa, the US, Europe, India and South America, and counsels the IDM's management board on scientific and strategic matters. In addition, the committee keeps the IDM abreast on various topics pertinent to its work, including trends in the international research landscape and funding opportunities.

Professor Valerie Mizrahi, director of the IDM, says the two-day meeting was a "fantastic" opportunity for the institute to showcase its work to these "influential academic leaders".

The gathering included in-depth discussions with staff and students. In closing, the committee members reported back on their findings to the IDM's management board and all members.

"When you run an institute of this kind, seeking advice and opinion of leading academics is important." said Mizrahi of the meeting.

 

Vitamin D deficiency linked to TB

from UCT Daily news, 2 Nov 2011

Researchers at UCT [led by Prof Robert Wilkinson] and the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in the UK have found that vitamin D deficiency is extremely common in black Africans living in Cape Town, and is also associated with susceptibility to tuberculosis (TB) infection.

The research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US.

South Africa has the third-highest incidence of TB in the world, with 490 000 cases estimated to have arisen in 2009. Active TB can arise as a consequence of reactivation of latent MTB infection following compromise of the antimycobacterial immune response.

HIV infection is a major cause of such immunocompromise, and the high prevalence of HIV infection in South Africa drives its TB epidemic. But other factors may also contribute.

The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in patients with TB in subtropical Africa has not previously been reported, although vitamin D deficiency is associated with susceptibility to TB in HIV-uninfected people in Europe. There is particularly good reason to investigate this question in Cape Town, because TB incidence in this city is higher than elsewhere in South Africa and the ability of sunlight to synthesize vitamin D is compromised during the winter in Cape Town.

Professor Robert Wilkinson (pictured below) is associated with both UCT's Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine and the NIMR's Division of Mycobacterial Research. He worked with colleagues in Cape Town and London to conduct a cross-sectional study to determine whether vitamin D deficiency was associated with susceptibility to active TB in HIV-uninfected and HIV-infected black Africans in Cape Town.

Robert WilkinsonHe also investigated whether there was evidence of seasonal variation in vitamin D status and TB notifications in this setting over an eight-year period. The team measured vitamin D levels in the serum of HIV-infected and uninfected patients with TB and appropriate control subjects who did not have TB.

They found that vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent among black African adults living in Cape Town. The deficiency is associated with susceptibility to active TB in both HIV-uninfected and infected persons, but the association is stronger in HIV-infected people. A seasonal pattern of notifications of TB occurs in Cape Town, with the lowest rates in the second quarter of the year, coincident with peak vitamin D serum concentrations.

Wilkinson said: "A growing body of evidence suggests that vitamin-D deficiency may also impair the immune response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB). We have previously reported that vitamin D deficiency is associated with susceptibility to TB in London and that this association is modified by variants in the genes for the vitamin D receptor (which senses vitamin D) and vitamin D binding protein (which carries the vitamin around the body).

"We have also shown that vitamin D supplementation enhances immunity to mycobacteria, both in healthy people and in a genetically defined subgroup of patients with active TB. Vitamin D supplementation might be a highly cost effective, safe and simple means to reduce tuberculosis incidence."

This research is also of relevance to the UK because TB is more common among immigrants from Africa, who are more likely to be HIV infected and vitamin D deficient.

 

Congratulations to Professor Ed Rybicki, IDM Full Member, elected as a fellow of UCT; and Dr Thomas Scriba, IDM Associate Member, awarded the UCT Young Researcher Award.

from UCT daily news - 21 Oct 2011

UCT hails distinguished academics
21 October 2011

UCT has four new fellows, and three up-and-coming scholars have received the College of Fellows' Young Researcher Award.

At the university's annual College of Fellows' Dinner on 18 October, Professors George Janelidze and Hans-Peter Kunzi, both of the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, together with Professor Ed Rybicki of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Professor Vanessa Watson of the School of Architecture, Planning & Geomatics, were introduced as the new fellows.

Fellows are academics singled out for their original and distinguished academic work. UCT fellows now number 49. (There are also 12 Sometime Fellows and 63 Life Fellows.)

In addition, Dr Rob Ingle of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Dr Deena Pillay of the Department of Zoology and Dr Thomas Scriba of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine were honoured with Young Researcher Awards. The Young Research Awards are made to young academics, recognising their already significant contributions to research in their fields.

New UCT Fellows

New on the block: VC Dr Max Price (second from left) and Prof Danie Visser (second from right) congratulate new fellows (from left), Prof Hans-Peter Kunzi, Prof Ed Rybicki, Prof Vanessa Watson and Prof George Janelidze.

 

Minister surveys S&T at UCT
19 October 2011

from UCT daily news - 19 Oct 2011

The national Department of Science & Technology has, through its agencies, been a generous supporter of UCT over the years.

Visit by Naledi Pandor Visit by Naledi Pandor
Catching up: Minister Naledi Pandor (front left) learned from Dr Max Price (right) and others
what's happening on the research front at UCT.
Pushing the envelope: Prof Kelly Chibale and Minister of Science & Technology Naledi Pandor exchange thoughts during Pandor's tour of UCT facilities.

 

It is incumbent on UCT to demonstrate that that funding and show of confidence has been put to good use," explains vice-chancellor Dr Max Price. So on 17 October, Price, other university executives, deans and researchers offered Minister Naledi Pandor a thumbnail review of its science and technology ambitions and infrastructure.

Deputy vice-chancellor for research, Professor Danie Visser, talked on UCT's research drives and the support programmes the university runs for its senior and up-and-coming academics. Professor Francis Petersen, dean of the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment, spoke on innovation at UCT and how researchers are addressing developmental concerns through their work.

Professor Anton le Roex, dean of the Faculty of Science, highlighted the kinds of cutting-edge research in structural biology and nano-imaging that will be conducted in the new engineering building currently under construction on upper campus. And Pandor toured facilities of Dr Olaf Conrad's Hydrogen South Africa Catalysis Competence Centre, Professor Kelly Chibale's new Drug Discovery & Development Centre and the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine.

"I think the visit went very well," said Price. "I think the Minister left the campus with some excitement about the discoveries our researchers are making, our research ambitions, and a new appreciation for what research at UCT has to offer to social and economic development in the country, the continent and the rest of the world."

 

Undergraduate Research Day
13 October 2011

The UCT Faculty of Health Sciences hosted its annual Undergraduate Research Day on Thursday, 13 October. Undergraduate students presented their research efforts over 2011 to classmates, lecturers and a panel of judges who provided valuable feedback. Oral and poster sessions were held.

Prof Arieh Katz, a Full Member of the IDM, co-supervised the three-person team who came second in the poster session for their investigation of mutations in a gene in the Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV), which is a known human cancer virus. Congratulations to Basa Bibi, Jarryd Lunn and Seedat Azhar.

 

NRF President's Awards

2 Sept 2011 ; adapted from the NRF website

The National Research Foundation Acknowledges Excellence in Research  through the NRF Awards
On Thursday 01 September 2011, the Minister of Science and Technology Ms Naledi Pandor and the CEO of the National Research Foundation Dr Albert van Jaarsveld celebrated excellence in research at the annual National Research Foundation (NRF) Awards ceremony held at Velmore Estate in Pretoria. The Awards honour and celebrate researchers who have been recognised by their peers as international leaders in their field due to the impact, quality and the exemplary nature of their research outputs.  

Professor Frank Brombacher, a Full Member of the IDM, University of Cape Town, received an ‘A’ rating at the ceremony. A-rated researchers are researchers who are unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their field for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs.

Professor Bongani M Mayosi, an Affiliate Member of the IDM, University of Cape Town, received the Transformation of the Science Cohort award in recognition of his efforts in recruiting more black scientists and encouraging them to move towards world class research performance.

 

Landmark TB trials to start in Khayelitsha

Kowthar Solomons, Weekend Argus, 27 August 2011

A total of 1 140 HIV-positive people from Khayelitsha will play a key role in research that could change the face of tuberculosis treatment. They will take part in clinical trials in a joint initiative between the University of Cape Town and the Oxford-Emergent tuberculosis Consortium to determine the safety of a new TB vaccine booster on people with HIV / Aids.

TB is the leading cause of death of HIV / Aids sufferers in South Africa, and the second worst killer disease worldwide after malaria. In 2008 Stats SA reported 592 073 deaths from TB. Professor Robert Wilkinson, from UCT’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, said South Africa has the highest number of people with both TB and HIV.

“South Africa also has the second highest rate of TB infection. It is estimated that 987 out of every 100 000, or one percent of the population, are infected with TB each year” he said.

A 2009 study by the World health Organisation showed HIV sufferers who live in countries with a lot of TB, such as South Africa, are up to 20 times more likely to develop TB. The booster vaccine, called MVA85A, was developed by the Oxford consortium in a bid to boost the effects of the existing TB vaccine, the Bacille Calmetter-Guerin or BCG.

The BCG vaccine, used mostly to protect children from iTB and meningitis, is one of the few vaccines proven to be effective against TB, but it has a widely varied degree of efficacy, especially in adults.

This is the first trial of the MVA85A vaccine in patients with HIV / Aids, aimed at testing how well the new vaccine works and to make sure it’s safe. “It’s very important to know whether the vaccine could help or hurt people infected with HIV. The results of the trial will prove particularly important for South Africa and its extremely high rate of TB related deaths,” Wilkinson said.

Derval Reidy, clinical trials manager at UCT, said Khayelitsha had been chosen because of its high number of TB patients. “We have also chosen another site in Senegal, with 260 patients, but the bulk of our data will come from Khayelitsha which has a rate of 1 500 patients with TB per 100 000,” said Reidy.

They would screen participants for signs of TB, via chest X-rays, and sputum and blood samples. Participants must be between 18 and 50, with CD4 counts greater than 350.

"The patient will receive either the booster vaccine or a placebo. At each (follow-up) visit the participant will be checked for signs and symptoms of TB, and their blood will be taken to monitor their immune response." Reidy said the screening process was almost complete, with the trial expected to start in few weeks.

 

UCT in new TB trial

from UCT daily news - 19 Aug 2011

UCT is taking part in the Phase IIb proof-of-concept efficacy trial of a candidate tuberculosis vaccine, a study that will involve people living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Researchers from the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine will screen and test patients living in Khayelitsha, using the vaccine known as MVA85A. The patients are HIV positive but have not been infected with TB.

This is the first proof-of-concept efficacy trial in people infected with HIV using MVA85A, which is being developed by the Oxford-Emergent Tuberculosis Consortium (OETC), a joint venture between the University of Oxford and Emergent BioSolutions, and Aeras, a non-profit partnership focusing on TB vaccine regimens.

The MVA85A vaccine candidate is intended to boost the response of immune-essential T-cells already stimulated by the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, also used against tuberculosis.

Previous clinical trials of MVA85A in adults in the UK, Gambia, Senegal and South Africa have demonstrated consistently high cellular immune responses in those who received the vaccine candidate following vaccination with BCG.

People infected with HIV living in countries with high TB prevalence are 20 times more likely to develop TB than those who are HIV-negative.

The UCT-based South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) recently concluded its own study with MVA85A, in which it ran clinical tests with almost 3000 infants in Worcester and surrounding communities.

 

BioVision - Lilly Award for Dr Digby Warner and Dr Thomas Scriba IDM - 6 Apr 2011

excerpt from Biovision - Lilly press release

Lyon, April 06 2011 - BioVision has announced the winners of the 2011 BioVision Lilly Award in conjunction with TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world, on Monday March 28th during a special ceremony held during the 7th World Life Sciences Forum (Lyon, France).

The 2011 Award recognized 4 young scientists, living and working in developing countries, who have a track record of excellent research in the field of tuberculosis, and whose work promises to have a positive impact in the developing world.

The awards and certificates were presented by Mr. Bart Peterson, Senior Vice-President, Corporate Affairs and Communication, Eli Lilly and Company; and, representing TWAS and BioVision, Mr. Christian Grenier, CEO, BioVision.

"We have been impressed with the quality of the competition and especially the winners," says Bart Peterson. "TB largely afflicts the developing world and I’m heartened to see that young developing-world scientists are taking their position at the forefront of global research being carried out into this debilitating disease."

The winners were selected from among 40 entries by an international jury of world-class academics, chaired by Jacob Palis, President of TWAS, and Professor at the Instituto Nacional de Matemática Pura e Aplicada in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The first- and second-place winners received funding to continue their research.

Dr. Digby Warner, Sr. Research Officer, MRC/NHLS/UCT Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit, University of Cape Town, South Africa - Winner of the 2011 BioVision Lilly Award, in conjunction with TWAS: Warner is honoured for his work on mycobacterial metabolism which promises to have a major impact on understanding the development of drug-resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Dr. Thomas Scriba, Senior Researcher, South African TB Vaccine Initiative, University of Cape Town - First runner-up: Scriba is honoured for his work on TB vaccines.

Dr. Dihandenys Lemus, Tuberculosis National Reference Laboratory in Havana, Cuba and Prof. Joy Sarojini Michael, Christian Medical College of Vellore, India - Joint third. Dihandenys Lemus is honoured for her work in drug-resistant tuberculosis and Joy Sarojini Michael for her research in new TB diagnostics.

TB is an airborne infectious disease. Globally, more than 9 million people became ill with TB and some 1.7 million died of the disease in 2009. The number of new cases arising each year is still increasing in the regions of Africa, Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia. If TB is detected early and fully treated, affected individuals cease to be able to infect others and can be cured.

About BioVision, the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership and TWAS

BioVision: BioVision engages key international leaders from different backgrounds in debates on global issues involving science and society. Every other year in Lyon, BioVision brings together government and business leaders, scholars, policy makers and NGO directors. Participants analyze scientific breakthroughs, pressing global challenges, discuss the most effective solutions, and build lasting partnerships that enable them to create positive social change.
www.biovision.org

The Lilly MDR-TB Partnership
Recognizing that MDR-TB cannot be halted by medicine alone, Lilly created the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership in 2003. This public-private initiative mobilizes over 20 partners on five continents to tackle the scourge of TB and MDR-TB. Eli Lilly and Company is contributing US$ 120 million in cash, medicines, advocacy tools and technology to focus global resources on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of TB and MDR-TB. An additional US$ 15 million was given to the Lilly TB Drug Discovery Initiative; a nonprofit with the goal of accelerating the discovery of new drugs to treat TB by bringing together specialists from around the world. The company has made this investment to ensure that thousands of MDR-TB patients receive the care and medication they need to combat this disease.
www.lillymdr-tb.com

TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world is an autonomous international organization founded in Trieste, Italy in 1983. TWAS represents the best of science in the developing world. Its principal aim is to promote scientific capacity and excellence for sustainable development in the South. The administration and financial operation of TWAS is undertaken by UNESCO in accordance with an agreement signed by the two organizations.
www.twas.org

 

 

RECENT WORKSHOPS & CONFERENCES

1st IUIS-FAIS Southern African Regional Immunology Workshop and
6th Infectious Diseases in Africa Symposium: Biomarkers and Correlates of Immune Control in HIV, TB and Malaria
20-24 October 2015

& immediately following these,
6th African Flow Cytometry Workshop: Measurement of Immune Responses
26-30 October 2015

More details on the workshops: [Call for Abstracts]
and abstract submission: [Abstract Submission Form]

Venue: University of Cape Town. There are no registration fees, but participation is based on the completion of a submission form, and abstract selection.

These are high quality, in-depth training opportunities for young African researchers.

Clive Gray, Guido Ferrari – Regional Workshop and Symposium Co-organizers

Wendy Burgers, Tom Scriba, Erica Andersen-Nissen, Catherine Riou, Elisa Nemes - Flow Cytometry Workshop Co-organizers

 


 

VIROLOGY AFRICA 2015

Virology Africa 2015

FIRST ANNOUNCEMENT:

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS VIROLOGY AFRICA 2015

 

On behalf of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine of the University of Cape Town and the Poliomyelitis Research Foundation, we are pleased to invite you to Virology Africa 2015 at the Cape Town Waterfront.

VENUE AND DATES: The conference will run from Tuesday 1st – Thursday 3rd December 2015 with space for workshops on Monday 30 November 2015.  The conference venue is the Radisson Blu Hotel with a magnificent view of the ocean.  The hotel school next door will host the cocktail party on the Monday night and in keeping with Virology Africa tradition, the dinner venue is the Two Oceans Aquarium.

The ACADEMIC PROGRAMME will include plenary-type presentations from internationally recognised speakers. We wish to emphasise that this is intended as a general virology conference - which means we will welcome plant, human, animal and bacterial virology contributions.  The venue will allow for parallel workshops of oral presentations. There will also be poster sessions. Senior students will be encouraged to present their research. We have sponsorship for students to attend the meeting and details will be announced later in the year.  The preliminary programme will be posted on the Web well in advance of the conference.

If you are prepared to fund an internationally recognised scientist to speak at the conference or if you wish to organise a specialist workshop as part of the conference, please contact:
Anna-Lise.williamson@uct.ac.za or Ed.Rybicki@uct.ac.za.

Conference Coordinator: Bridget Petersen of Onscreen Conferences
For any enquiries please contact Miss Bridget Petersen/Email:conference1@onscreenav.co.za or phone: +27 21 486 9111 or Ms Deborah McTeer/Email: conference@onscreenav.co.za or +27 83 457 1975

ABSTRACT SUBMISSION DEADLINE: 30 SEPTEMBER 2015

PDF   more information »

 


IDM Symposium

IDM's Ten Year Anniversary Symposium 2 - 4 November 2014
"Driving Research for Human Health in Africa"

A celebratory Symposium.

Our intention is to look back on the major achievements of senior IDM members, and look forward through the lens of our next-generation IDM researchers. The programme aims to capture our values; identify future research directions; demonstrate capacity and thematic strengths; and provide brainstorming opportunities.

The programme includes a number of international and national speakers, plus selected UCT academics and IDM members. The opening will include the UCT Vice Chancellor, the President of the Medical Research Council, and the Minister of Science & Technology (Dr Naledi Pandor).

The Symposium will be open to anyone who wishes to participate, with no registration fees charged.
However, registration is required for non-IDM staff and students.
To register, contact Jolandi:
 jolandi@onscreenav.co.za

 


VACFA - 10th Vaccinology Course

10-14 November 2014, Cape Town, South Africa
Convened by Prof. Gregory D. Hussey of the VACFA (www.vacfa.com), IDM, University of Cape Town, the annual African Vaccinology Course, now in its 10th consecutive year, has become a very popular training program for African vaccinologists.

Aims of the course:
• To provide participants with essential expertise to support national immunisation programmes
• To build sustainable research capacity for vaccine development and conducting high quality phase 1-lV vaccine trials in Africa
• To foster communication and networking among African vaccinologists

More information: flyer

Closing date: 30 June 2014 (but local applications close 31 July 2014).

 

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