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Professor Anna-Lise Williamson PhD(Wits) FRSSAf MASSAf Fellow of UCT

Viral Vaccine Development Group and
Human Papillomavirus Research Group

Anna-lise Williamson

Chair in Vaccinology (NRF South African Research Chairs Initiative), Division of Medical Virology, Department of Pathology, & Member of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT and of the National Health Laboratory Service; Director of UCT Vaccine Research Group GLP Facility; Head of WHO HPV Labnet lab for the Africa Region: Member of SAMRC Gynaecological Cancer Research Centre.

Viral Vaccine Development

While the HIV prevalence in Southern Africa continues to increase, one long-term strategy for the control of the pandemic is the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine. The aim is to make prophylactic HIV/AIDS vaccines that will induce broad, polyfunctional CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses as well as a wide spectrum of long-lived memory T cells and antibody responses. The tuberculosis vaccine, BCG, is being developed and tested, pre-clinically, as an HIV vaccine vector. African poxviruses are being investigated for their potential as vaccine vectors. Whole pox viral genomes are being sequenced and their gene expression profiles being compared by microarray analysis. Our most recent funding (SHIP, MRC) for candidate HIV vaccines supports the development of various novel Env vaccines including DNA and poxvirus vaccine vectors, as well as production in tissue culture and plants and establishment of a SHIV/rhesus monkey model for efficacy evaluation of these novel Env-based vaccine candidates. As an extension of our HIV vaccine evaluation, we are also investigating the impact of parasitic worm infections on the immunogenicity of these vaccines in the animal models.  Current veterinary vaccine projects include a novel Rift Valley Fever virus vaccine based on lumpy skin disease virus (LSDV).  We are also improving LSDV as a veterinary vaccine. 

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) projects

HPV is causally associated with cervical cancer one of the most important cancers in Africa.  Our present research provides data to support HPV vaccine introduction in South Africa, as well as understanding the factors influencing infection and persistence of HPV.  As HIV and HPV are both the cause of major public health problems in SA, we have a specific interest in the impact of HIV infection on HPV.  Novel insight has been gained into the impact of HIV co-infection on HPV transmission and natural history in couples.   Our group were the first worldwide to study oral HPV antibodies and to demonstrate cervical T cell responses to HPV.  Our research in microbicides and HPV infection detected a significant increase in multiple HPV infections in HIV-1 seronegative women using  nonoxynol-9, compared with HIV-1 seronegative women using placebo.  We also published the first report showing a negative association of HPV infection with the vaginal microbicide Carraguard.  Recently, we were one of the first groups to apply next generation sequencing technology to characterisation of HPV, and to show that there are many novel HPV viruses present in the genital tract. One of our current interests is the impact of the cervical microbiome on HPV infection.


Selected publications:

The use of directed evolution to create a stable and immunogenic recombinant BCG expressing a modified HIV-1 Gag antigen. Chapman R, Bourn WR, Shephard E, Stutz H, Douglass N, Mgwebi T, Meyers A, Chin'ombe N, Williamson AL. PLoS One. 2014 Jul 25;9(7):e103314. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103314. eCollection 2014.

The complete genome sequences of poxviruses isolated from a penguin and a pigeon in South Africa and comparison to other sequenced avipoxviruses. Offerman K, Carulei O, van der Walt AP, Douglass N, Williamson AL. BMC Genomics. 2014 Jun 12;15:463. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-15-463.

The novel capripoxvirus vector lumpy skin disease virus efficiently boosts modified vaccinia Ankara human immunodeficiency virus responses in rhesus macaques. Burgers WA, Ginbot Z, Shen YJ, Chege GK, Soares AP, Müller TL, Bunjun R, Kiravu A, Munyanduki H, Douglass N, Williamson AL. J Gen Virol. 2014 Oct;95(Pt 10):2267-72.

Comprehensive profiling of the vaginal microbiome in HIV positive women using massive parallel semiconductor sequencing. Ameur A, Meiring TL, Bunikis I, Häggqvist S, Lindau C, Lindberg JH, Gustavsson I, Mbulawa ZZ, Williamson AL, Gyllensten U. Sci Rep. 2014 Mar 18;4:4398. doi: 10.1038/srep04398.

High burden of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection among young women in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.Ebrahim S, Mndende XK, Kharsany AB, Mbulawa ZZ, Naranbhai V, Frohlich J, Werner L, Samsunder N, Karim QA, Williamson AL. PLoS One. 2016 Jan 19;11(1):e0146603. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0146603. eCollection 2016

Prospective one year follow up of HIV Infected women screened for cervical cancer using visual inspection with acetic acid, cytology and Human Papillomavirus testing in Johannesburg South Africa. Firnhaber C, Goeieman B, Faesen M, Levin S, Williams S, Rameotshela S, Swarts A, Michelow P, Omar T, Williamson AL, Allan B, Schnippel K, Smith JS. PLoS One. 2016 Jan 5;11(1):e0144905. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144905. eCollection 2016.

Justification for the inclusion of Gag in HIV vaccine candidates. Williamson AL, Rybicki EP.Expert Rev Vaccines 2015 Dec 28:1-14 (Epub ahead of print)

Human Papillomavirus prevalence in South African women and men according to age and human immunodeficiency virus status. Mbulawa ZZ, Coetzee D, Williamson AL. BMC Infect Dis. 2015 Oct 26; 15:459. doi: 10.1186/s 12879-015-1181-8


Contact details:

Room S3.01.1 Wernher & Beit South
Division of Medical Virology
Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine
Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT, Anzio Road, Observatory 7925 and
National Health Laboratory Service
Groote Schuur Hospital
Observatory 7925
South Africa

Tel:  +27 21 406 6124
     : +27 21 406 6679 (secretary)


Alternate sites:


Group members:

Research Staff
Academic Staff Dr Ros Chapman HIV Vaccine development
  Dr Niki Douglass Poxviruses as vaccine vectors
  Dr Zizipho Mbulawa Human Papillomavirus Research
Academic Staff Hosted in AL Williamson group Dr Gerald Chege Non-human primate models
  Dr Tracy Meiring Virome and Microbiome Research
Personal Assistant Susan Lanfear Administrative support
Technologists/Scientist Emmanuel Margolin HIV Vaccine Development
  Shireen Galant HIV Vaccine Development
  Phindile Ximba HIV Vaccine Development
  Michiel van Diepen HIV Vaccine Development
  Ruzaiq Omar Veterinary Vaccine Development
  Nai-Chung (Jack) Hu Human Papillomavirus
Technology/Scientist (GK Chege team) hosted in AL Williamson group Alana Keyser Non-human primate models
  Craig Adams Non-human primate models
Laboratory Manager Fatima Abrahams All projects
Project Manager Linda Stephens SHIP Project
Animal Lab Assistant Kelvin Africa Mouse care



South Africa  
Professor Ed Rybicki, UCT Papillomavirus metagenomics, HIV vaccines
Dr Gerald Chege HIV Vaccines
Professor Lynn Morris HIV Vaccines
Dr David Coetzee, UCT Human Papillomavirus in Heterosexual Couples
Dr Jennifer Moodley, UCT Human Papillomavirus
Dr Cindy Firnhaber, Wits University Human Papillomavirus
Professor Lynette Denny, UCT Human Papillomavirus
Professor Glenda Gray, Wits University Testing of SAAVI DNA-C2 and SAAVI MVA-C in clinical trials
Dr Wendy Burgers, UCT HIV Vaccines
Professor Linda-Gail Bekker , UCT Testing of SAAVI DNA-C2 and SAAVI MVA-C in clinical trials / HPV Vaccine trials
Dr Leigh Johnson, UCT Analysis of HPV data
A Professor Jo-Ann Passmore Human Papillomavirus
HIV Vaccine Trials Network, USA Testing of SAAVI DNA-C2 and SAAVI MVA-C in clinical trials
Professor Ulf Gyllensten, University of Uppsala, Uppsala Human Papillomavirus
Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation (Aeras). BCG based SIV / HIV vaccines
Dr W.R. Jacobs, Albert Einstein University, New York BCG strains