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Launch of Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa
May 2017, Adapted from original article

Following new funding from Wellcome, the original Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) has evolved into the Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa (CIDRI-Africa). This Centre will be directed by Honorary Professor Robert J Wilkinson, supported by co-applicants representing departments and divisions across the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) (of which Professor Wilkinson is a Member) and the Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT.

To celebrate this prestigious new Centre, a mini-symposium was held on 26th April 2017 in the IDM's Wolfson Pavilion Lecture Theatre. The Centre was officially opened by the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Max Price, followed by a review by Professor Robert J Wilkinson during which he explained the rationale leading to the Strategic Award in 2008, as well as the achievements and awards of postgraduate scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships during the period of the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research initiative.

The Centre supports 3 platforms:

  • Clinical - led by Professor Graeme Meintjes from the Department of Medicine and the IDM
  • Biosafety Level III Laboratory – led by Professor Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the IDM
  • Biomedical Data Integration – jointly led by Professors Nicola Mulder, Head of Computational Biology and Andrew Boulle from School of Public Health and Family Medicine

The additional co-applicants to the Wellcome Trust who also form the Steering Committee for the Centre are:

  • Professor Bongani Mayosi – Dean Faculty of Health Sciences
  • Professor Gary Maartens – Head of Clinical Pharmacology
  • Professor Carolyn Williamson, Division of Medical Virology
  • Professor Clifton Barry – Honorary Professor, UCT and of the NIH, USA
  • Professor Mark Nicol – Head of Division, Medical Microbiology
  • Associate Professor Tom Scriba – Deputy Director Immunology: SATVI
  • Professor Frank Brombacher – Scientific Co-ordinator and Group Leader, ICGEB and based in the IDM

Full story: www.idm.uct.ac.za/wilkinson/news.htm

 

New super-resolution microscopes for TB, HIV/AIDS research
Adapted from UCT News - 2 June 2017

 

The University of Cape Town's Faculty of Health Sciences officially launched two new state-of-the-art, multi-functional Carl Zeiss confocal and super-resolution microscopes in its Confocal and Light Microscope Imaging Facility. Based in the Department of Human Biology and also the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), the new microscopy platform enables a combination of multi-photon-based deep tissue imaging, fast live-cell and super-resolution technologies that will provide researchers in the Biomedical Sciences at UCT and beyond with an array of micro-imaging techniques unique in South Africa.

The platform allows advanced light microscopy imaging and analysis of cells and tissues, and is relevant to a multitude of research disciplines including, but not limited to, cell, cancer and developmental biology, immunology and infectious diseases research, microbiology, neuroscience and plant biotechnology.

"This includes real-time imaging and experimental manipulation of individual, live cells in tissues or small model organisms - crucial to our understanding of how, for example, nerve cells function in health and disease," says Associate Professor Dirk Lang, Head of the UCT Confocal and Light Microscope Imaging Facility.

The new systems will enable the Confocal and Light Microscope Imaging Facility to offer routine imaging of non-infectious and infectious biological samples under appropriate biosafety level 2 (BSL2) and biosafety level 3 (BSL3) containment, respectively, within the UCT FHS campus. This will allow unprecedented access of UCT and other local researchers to super-resolution, real-time live cell and tissue imaging including a multitude of quantitative imaging and analysis techniques.

One of the microscopes, the new super-resolution Elyra S1, is the first instrument of its kind in a BSL3 laboratory in SA, allowing imaging of live pathogens implicated in infectious diseases of greatest relevance within an African context.

"Super-resolution technology, housed in a biosafety facility will provide a means of revealing previously inaccessible detail in biological samples that will help researchers in understanding key cellular processes relevant to health issues of national importance, including TB and HIV/AIDS," says Associate Professor Digby Warner, Associate Member of the IDM.

Funding was received from the National Equipment Programme of the National Research Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the Wolfson Foundation, as well as UCT and the IDM.

A key component of the Wellcome Trust award is that it ensures 5-year funding for a technical post, thereby ensuring the funds are available to appoint someone with the expertise and skill to provide technical advice to users and oversight of the microscopes. The new equipment will also substantially contribute towards training and building urgently needed national capacity in advanced imaging techniques.

"In combination, these awards have enabled UCT to initiate a programme to develop a world-class imaging platform for infectious and non-infectious material, while ensuring that advanced technologies are maintained in biosafe core laboratories. Importantly, this process has highlighted the significant benefits inherent in driving multi-disciplinary funding applications within this environment, in this case involving the IDM, Department of Human Biology, and Faculty of Health Sciences,' agree Professors Lang and Warner.

 

UCT study shows that urine test is better for diagnosing TB rapidly among HIV-infected patients
March 2017

A study published this week in the journal BMC Medicine by researchers from the University of Cape Town shows that among hospitalised patients with HIV infection, a simple and inexpensive urine test identified more TB diagnoses in the first 24 hours of admission than rapid sputum-based tests.

This urine test (the Determine TB-LAM assay, similar to a pregnancy test) detects components of the cell wall of the TB bacterium in the urine and takes about 20 minutes to undertake without need for special infrastructure.

One of the researchers on the study, Professor Graeme Meintjes said: "The results of this study build on findings of other UCT researchers that this urine test can reduce mortality among HIV-infected patients admitted to hospital by speeding up the diagnosis of TB.

"The findings of these studies challenge the dogma that the first place to look for TB is in the sputum. Among a select group of patients (HIV-infected patients with very weak immune systems admitted to hospital) a combination of tests is required, including urine and sputum tests, to facilitate a quick diagnosis of TB thereby allowing doctors to start patients with TB on appropriate treatment rapidly."

Historically, the laboratory examination of sputum samples has been the method used to diagnose most cases of TB. However, it is well recognised that this approach often fails in patients with HIV infection. In many of these patients, TB spreads from the lungs to the blood and other organs in the body due to poor immunity.

Additionally, there may be few or no TB bacteria found in their sputum, either because they are too weak or ill to produce a good sputum sample or because of less TB cavity formation in their lungs.

The difficulty of diagnosing TB is particularly true for patients with HIV who are sick enough to be admitted to hospital. Notably, in such patients, it is critically important to make a rapid diagnosis of TB so that treatment may be initiated promptly to avoid deaths.

The study was conducted at GF Jooste Hospital prior to it being decommissioned. A total of 427 consecutive patients with HIV infection admitted to the medical wards were screened for TB using sputum, urine and blood tests. In total, one in three (33%) of these patients were diagnosed with active TB disease. Among patients with TB, sputum microscopy and sputum Xpert diagnosed TB within 24 hours of admission in 19% and 27%, respectively, compared to 38% using the urine Determine TB-LAM assay. The urine test was particularly useful for diagnosing TB in the patients with the lowest CD4 counts or weakest immune systems as well as those who were anaemic.

The main reason that the urine test outperformed the sputum test was because of how difficult it was to obtain a sputum specimen from many patients on admission. Whereas almost all patients, even those were very ill, could provide a urine sample.

The study was led by Professor Steve Lawn, who passed away in September 2016, after a long battle with brain cancer. Professor Lawn, originally from the UK, conducted research in Cape Town from 2004 until the time of his death. He made seminal contributions to understanding the interactions between HIV and TB, the role of antiretroviral therapy in preventing TB in HIV-infected people and the important role of new diagnostic tests in improving the diagnosis of TB in HIV-infected people. Professor Lawn published over 100 papers with UCT colleagues on HIV and TB in leading international journals.

Authors: Stephen D. Lawn, Andrew D. Kerkhoff, Rosie Burton, Charlotte Schutz, Andrew Boulle, Monica Vogt, Ankur Gupta-Wright, Mark P. Nicol, Graeme Meintjes

Steve Lawn

 

The Influence of HIV on the Evolution of Mycobacterium tuberculosis
March 2017

One of the first studies to have investigate whether HIV influences the evolution of M. tuberculosis was recently published in Molecular Biology and Evolution by Anastasia Koch together with Prof Robert Wilkinson and A/Prof Darren Martin and other colleagues from the IDM, and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.  

The team conducted evolutionary analysis of M. tuberculosis full genome sequences isolated from HIV uninfected and HIV co-infected individuals living in Khayelitsha. Specific sites within M. tuberculosis genomes where the bacterium may have been compelled to evolve in response to HIV-1 coinfections were uncovered. Of significance was that when sites were classified according to their function, an unusually large number occurred in epitopes encoding regions.  

This is the first time that phylogenetically informed and statistically sophisticated evolutionary models have been applied to M. tuberculosis whole genome sequence data to detect codon site specific natural selection that might be influenced by HIV co-infection. An important finding of this work is that natural selection on M. tuberculosis codons can be detected using these methods, and that HIV may be impacting how M. tuberculosis is presently evolving.

The finding of some evidence for differential selection on epitope encoding regions was unexpected, but not totally counter-intuitive. Previous work by the Swiss collaborators has established unusual levels of M. tuberculosis epitope conservation in HIV uninfected individuals, which suggests that, in the absence of HIV, epitope conservation is favourable for M. tuberculosis. HIV co-infection may disrupt the relationship between host and bacillus, and thus decreases the favourability of epitope conservation.

While the influence of HIV on M. tuberculosis epitope evolution could have implications for the design of vaccines to be administered in settings with high rates of HIV-associated TB, the authors stress that the results must be validated on larger datasets before any broad conclusions can be drawn.

Their findings were published on the 21st of March 2017 in the advanced online edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution: https://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msx107

 

CIDRI clinical research site in Khayelitsha joins the HVTN702 trial
March 2017

The Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) clinical research site located at Site B Community Health Centre in Khayelitsha has been activated as one of the trial sites to participate in the pivotal HVTN702 randomised controlled trial assessing the safety and efficacy of the novel HIV vaccine (ALVAC-HIV (vCP2438) + Bivalent Subtype C gp120/MF59). It is one of fifteen sites across South Africa participating in this trial. The other site in Cape Town is Emavundleni in Crossroads run by UCT's Desmond Tutu HIV Centre. The Emavundleni site has been recruiting since late 2016.

The trial aims to enroll 5,400 men and women aged 18-35 years. It is planned that each of the 15 sites will enroll 360 HIV-negative participants over a 2-year period. Each participant will be followed for 2-3 years in the study.

The vaccine used in HVTN 702 is based on the vaccine investigated in the RV144 clinical trial in Thailand. The Thai trial delivered landmark results in 2009: the experimental vaccine regimen it tested was found to be 31 percent effective in preventing HIV infection over the 3.5-year follow-up period after vaccination.

In the HVTN 702 study, the vaccination schedule and vaccine components of the RV144 vaccine regimen have been modified in an attempt to increase the magnitude and duration of the protective immune responses elicited. Funders of the trial are the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the South African Medical Research Council (MRC).

The principal investigator at the Khayelitsha site is Professor Graeme Meintjes. The trial staff of over 20 members has worked hard over the past 6 months to prepare the site for the trial in terms of training and developing clinical, regulatory laboratory and pharmacy infrastructure and capacity. A Community Advisory Group (CAG) of 12 community members has also been established and has advised the trial team on strategies for messaging and recruitment in the community. Meintjes said: "This is the first time that the community of Khayelitsha has the opportunity to participate in an HIV vaccine trial. This is fitting given the key role that members of this community have played in the fight against the HIV epidemic through activism and disseminating knowledge about the virus to combat its spread. The ongoing burden of new HIV infections among young people in this and many other communities in South Africa means that its vital to develop and evaluate new prevention methods."

 

HVTN702 trial team

The Khayelitsha HVTN702 trial team at Site B Community Health Centre

 

First time Africa to host International Papillomavirus Conference (HPV 2017)
28 February - 4 March 2017 CTICC


The 31st International Papillomavirus Conference (HPV 2017, http://hpv2017.org/) will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, from 28 February - 4 March 2017 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in Cape Town, South Africa. The conference is held under the auspices of the International Papillomavirus Society (http://ipvsoc.org/), and the theme is "Basic Science to Global Health Impact".

HPV 2017 is the biggest gathering of scientists and clinicians with an interest in papillomaviruses and their associated diseases, and is especially relevant in this era of widespread and increasing use of the three licenced human papillomavirus vaccines. The conference itself, as well as the Public Health, Clinical and Basic Science pre-conference workshops, will significantly impact health workers, clinicians and scientists newly interested in these viruses and their biology, and should inform public health and vaccination policy worldwide.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is now a well-established cause of cervical cancer and there is
growing evidence of HPV being a relevant factor in other anogenital cancers (anus, vulva, vagina and
penis) as well as head and neck cancers. On the African continent, cervical cancer is increasingly a major public health problem, especially where it is further exacerbated by HIV co-infection. In April 2014 the South African National Department of Health implemented a school-based HPV vaccination program for all girls 9 years and older in grade 4 in public schools, targeting almost half a million girls.

Special highlights of the Conference
This is the first ever IPVS meeting to be held in Africa. 1000 delegates are expected, from most of Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. A large cohort will also be from Africa, greatly facilitated by a grant of R1 million from the SA government National Research Foundation.

The conference will be opened by the SA Minister of Science and Technology Dr. Naledi Pandor, and will also be addressed by the Nigerian Federal Minister of Health Professor Isaac Adewole.

An HPV Awareness Day Initiative led by IPVS (http://ipvsoc.org/hpv-day/) is to be launched during the conference, with a Cape Town declaration to be signed by attendees. This aims to raise awareness about the availability of prevention tools, to promote education about HPV, and encourage governments and individuals across the world to take action against HPV to save hundreds of thousands of women and men who can benefit from the HPV vaccine and/or screening for early detection of cancer. 

Contacts:

  • Professor Anna-Lise Williamson, joint staff of UCT (Department of Pathology) and NHLS, and Member of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) anna-lise.williamson@uct.ac.za. Prof Williamson leads the UCT's HIV Vaccine Development Group and Human Papillomavirus Research Group, and is internationally recognized for both her HIV vaccine and Human Papillomavirus expertise.
  • Professor Ed Rybicki, UCT (Department of Molecular and Cell Biology) and Member of the IDM, ed.rybicki@uct.ac.za. Prof Rybicki and colleagues demonstrated a pioneering step towards using plants to produce vaccines against cervical cancer and other viral diseases. 'Production of Human papillomavirus pseudovirions in plants and their use in pseudovirion-based neutralisation assays in mammalian cells'. Scientific Reports 6: 20431, by RL Lamprecht, P Kennedy, SM Huddy, S Bethke, M Hendrikse, I Hitzeroth & EP Rybicki.

Download:
HPV2017 programme-at-a-glance

The full programme is available as an interactive:
http://hpv2017.org/

 

PredART trial shows prednisone is safe and effective for preventing TB-IRIS
February 2017

The findings of the PredART trial were presented at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) that took place in Seattle, United States, from 13-16 February 2017. This trial is the first to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of prednisone for preventing the tuberculosis-associated immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (TB-IRIS) in patients at high risk for this condition.

The trial was conducted as a collaboration between investigators from UCT, Imperial College London and the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium. UCT investigators included Graeme Meintjes (Principal Investigator; CIDRI, Member of the IDM), Robert J. Wilkinson, Gary Maartens, Cari Stek, Liz Blumenthal, Friedrich Thienemann and Charlotte Schutz. The main funder of the trial was the the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), with co-funding received from the South African National Department of Science and Technology and the Wellcome Trust.

TB-IRIS is the most frequent complication of starting antiretroviral therapy in patients with advanced HIV being treated for active TB disease (it affects up to 50% of such patients). It manifests with recurrent or new inflammatory features of TB during the first few weeks of ART resulting in clinical deterioration frequently necessitating hospital admission. Patients complain of recurrence of their TB symptoms, and may develop enlarging lymph glands in their neck, TB abscesses or worsening of their chest X-rays.

The primary comparison was the proportion of participants who were diagnosed with TB-IRIS. In participants who received prednisone there was a significant (30%) relative reduction in the risk of developing TB-IRIS: 46.7% of patients in the placebo arm developed TB-IRIS compared with 32.5% in the prednisone arm. Also important is that prednisone appeared to be safe in these patients with advanced HIV. Adverse events and severe infections were not more common in the prednisone-treated participants.    

FULL ARTICLE:
Download PDF

WEBCAST PRESS CONFERENCE: results of their PredART trial:
http://www.croiwebcasts.org/console/player/33484?mediaType=slideVideo&

Links:

CROI ABSTRACT: http://www.croiconference.org/sessions/randomized-controlled-trial-prednisone-prevention-paradoxical-tb-iris

CROI press conference:
http://www.croiwebcasts.org/console/player/33488?mediaType=slideVideo&

Short film about PredART trial made in 2015 by EDCTP:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvnxfpWBsFU

PredART website:
https://www.predart.org/site/index

PredART logo

PredART team

PredART trial clinical team meeting at Site B clinic
in Khayelitsha, Cape Town where the trial was conducted

 

DTHF receives the South African Ubuntu Social Responsibility Award 2017
February 2017

DTHC logo

The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation received the South African UBUNTU Award for Social Responsibility 2017. Tracy-Ann Finnan (Senior Finance) and Riaan Beukes (Project Leader for Zimele) graciously received the award on behalf of the Foundation at a gala event in Cape Town on 17th February. The evening honoured the legacy of Oliver Tambo and those South Africans who have followed in his footsteps. It was attended by President Jacob Zuma and many notable dignitaries. 

The award recognizes "South African citizens or organizations that through excellence serve as global ambassadors of our nation.  The awards celebrate South African citizens who through their Integrity, Passion, Patriotism and Humility have raised the South African flag high on an international stage."

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, COO (DTHF) and member of the IDM, shared with her staff "This is an award to each one of [you, the staff of DTHF] for [your] passion, excellence, integrity, progressiveness, innovation and mutual respect".

More information here »

UBUNTU award

South African UBUNTU Award for
Social Responsibility 2017

 

World first - international centre for research into African fungal infections to open in 2017, by University of Aberdeen and IDM, UCT (AFGrica Unit)
December 2016
University of Aberdeen

The world's first international research centre for tackling fungal infections has been set up in South Africa by the prestigious MRC Centre for Medical Mycology, University of Aberdeen in the UK, to be based and in conjunction with the IDM at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The majority of global deaths related to fungal infections occur in sub-Saharan Africa, contributing to between 600,000 and 1 million deaths annually – more than malaria and around the same number of deaths caused by tuberculosis. In sub-Saharan Africa, around 50% of people diagnosed with invasive fungal infections die as a result of their fungal infections – led by cryptococcal meningitis in patients with HIV/AIDS.

The new centre, to officially open August 2017, will be called the AFGrica Unit and will act as a centre of operations in Africa, in collaborations targeting the priority areas in fungal diseases relevant to Africa. It also builds on an existing Wellcome Trust-funded Strategic Award (led by the Aberdeen Fungal Group, see below), where PhD students from low and middle-income nations including Africa are trained in Aberdeen and other medical mycology Centres in the rest of the UK. Upon obtaining their degrees, these students will return home with their new skills to help address critical fungal research and training needs in their own countries.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and Professor Bongani Mayosi, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at UCT both confirm that the establishment of the AFGrica Unit in the IDM will enhance the excellent clinical and basic research that is taking placed on cryptococcal meningitis and other fungal diseases in the UCT Faculty; and will also contribute to the training of a new generation of African scientific leaders.

Professor Gordon Brown (also IDM Adjunct Member) leads both the Aberdeen Fungal Group, one of the largest medical mycology groups in the world with internationally recognised scientists; and the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology, opened in February 2016 to spearhead innovative research and training to generate knowledge that will improve the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of fungal diseases. This Centre is the first UK MRC Centre dedicated to the field of medical mycology. 

See also:
http://www.health.uct.ac.za/sites/default/files/image_tool/images/116/News/press-releases/2016-12-20_AFGricaCentre_MediaRelease.pdf

http://www.health.uct.ac.za/news/fighting-african-fungal-infections-world%E2%80%99s-first-international-research-centre-uct

 

IDM Members receive ad hominem promotions, & election as Fellow of UCT
December 2016

A number of IDM members were given ad hominem promotions at the end of 2016:

Wendy Burgers and Helen Cox (both of the Department of Pathology) were promoted to Associate Professor.

Mark Hatherill (Department of Pathology) and Virna Leaner (Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences IBMS) were promoted to Full Professor.

Andrew Boulle and Helen McIlleron (Affiliate members) were also promoted to Full Professor.

Dr Reto Guler (ICGEB) was promoted to Senior Research Officer.

And past associates of the IDM were also promoted:

Mashiko Setshedi (Department of Medicine and previous Hasso Plattner fellowship awardee) and Dr Tolullah Oni (Division of Public Health Medicine previously of CIDRI) were promoted to Associate Professors.

In addition:

Professor Nicky Mulder, head of the Division of Computational Biology in IBMS, was elected a Fellow of UCT. Fellowship is awarded by UCT to members of the permanent academic staff in recognition of original distinguished academic work such as to merit special recognition.

Our congratulations to them all!

 

Prestigious new Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa for UCT (CIDRI-Africa)
December 2016

7 December 2016, University of Cape Town, South Africa - A Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa (CIDRI-Africa) will be established at the University of Cape Town to augment acknowledged strengths in the basic and clinical aspects of infectious diseases research in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

The Wellcome Trust today announced funding of £118M to 14 major research centres over the next five years, of which CIDRI-Africa will receive R85 million approximately. This prestigious award is the only one given to an organisation outside of the United Kingdom.

Wellcome Centres all aim to advance understanding of health and disease, and span fundamental and social sciences, clinical research and engineering. At Wellcome Centres groups of world-class researchers with a joint vision come together to share facilities, collaborate, and benefit from the dynamic research, cultural and training environment. CIDRI-Africa, based in the prestigious Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) at UCT's Faculty of Health Sciences, will be headed by leading UCT researcher Honorary Professor Robert J Wilkinson. It will collaborate with partners locally, in Africa and from the UK to deliver world-leading research and high-impact translation.

One of seven newly-established Wellcome Centres, CIDRI-Africa will focus on Infectious Diseases. The burden of infectious disease in South Africa and on the continent is extreme with an estimated 25.5 million of the 36.7 million people living globally with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. As a consequence 75% of the world's cases of HIV associated TB also occur on the continent.  As well as testing vaccines and drugs in communities most affected by the disease, capacity and capability to research the basic science of such diseases and to carry out intensive earlier phase experimental medicine studies is also crucial to the enterprise and to innovation.

Wellcome's Director Dr Jeremy Farrar said:
"Wellcome Centres play a special role in the global research ecosystem. By creating places where researchers can flourish we can catalyse world-leading research and translation, and amplify its influence and impact.

"At Wellcome we believe in long term support for discovery-driven science, and Wellcome Centres are an outstanding environment for researchers to further our understanding of fundamental biology, accelerate translation to clinical practice, and explore the social and cultural context of medicine."

Director of CIDRI-Africa, Professor Robert Wilkinson is rightly proud of this immense achievement, not only for UCT, but for the continent: "This award is one I hope all can share at UCT. We competed against world-class UK institutions. The process was arduous – the co-applicants', Faculty and University support made this possible. The basis for the funding is that, in this area of research, UCT is amongst the best in the world. No similar award has been made outside the UK."

 

HIV vaccine: historic clinical trial begins in South Africa
November 2016

The first HIV vaccine efficacy study to launch anywhere in seven years is now testing whether an experimental vaccine regimen safely prevents HIV infection among South African adults. The study, called HVTN 702, involves a new version of the only HIV vaccine candidate ever shown to provide some protection against the virus. HVTN 702 aims to enroll 5,400 men and women, making it the largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial to take place in South Africa, where more than 1,000 people become infected with HIV every day.

This study is being conducted at 15 research centres in South Africa. Protocol Chair is Professor Glenda Gray, President of SAMRC and Adjunct Member of the IDM, with co-chairs [all local researchers] Dr Fatima Laher of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Dr Mookho Malahleha of the Setshaba Research Centre in Soshanguve, and Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre based in the IDM at UCT. Professor Bekker is also President of the International AIDS Society and serves on a number of other national and international committees and boards. She participated in a question and answer session about the new vaccine trial, on the SABC1 news channel primetime programme at 08h00, 30th November 2016.

HVTN 702 is based on the vaccine investigated in the RV144 clinical trial in Thailand led by the US Military HIV Research Program and the Thai Ministry of Health. The Thai trial delivered landmark results in 2009 and the experimental vaccine regimen it tested was found to be 31.2 percent effective in preventing HIV infection over the 3.5-year follow-up period after vaccination.

In the HVTN 702 study, the design, schedule and components of the RV144 vaccine regimen have been modified in an attempt to increase the magnitude and duration of the protective immune responses elicited by the vaccine. Results are expected in late 2020.

Funding the trial are the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the South African Medical Research Council (MRC).

"If deployed alongside our current armory of proven HIV prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could be the final nail in the coffin for HIV," said Dr Anthony S. Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health. "This launch represents a significant HIV prevention milestone. In earlier studies, this vaccine regimen improved on many of the antibody responses to the types of HIV strains circulating in South Africa, providing us the scientific basis to conduct this pivotal trial." says Dr Larry Corey, principal investigator at the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) which is part of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, Seattle, responsible overall for the conduct of HVTN 702.

Adapted from, and from where further details are available:

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/first-new-hiv-vaccine-efficacy-study-seven-years-has-begun

http://www.mrc.ac.za/Media/2016/25press2016.htm

http://desmondtutuhivfoundation.org.za

 

News of recent awards and appointments made to Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) Members

Professor Robert J. Wilkinson has been appointed a prestigious Honorary Professor at the University College London, UK, in recognition of the distinction he has achieved in his field of research. Professor Wilkinson is a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow in Clinical Tropical Medicine, MRC Programme Leader at the Francis Crick Institute, London, and Professor in Infectious Diseases, Imperial College London. He is seconded to the IDM as Director of the Clinical Infectious Diseases research initiative based in the IDM (www.cidri.uct.ac.za). HI major research interest is tuberculosis and the effect of HIV infection on this disease.

Professor Bongani Mayosi (Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences and Affiliate Member of the IDM) received the Medical Research Council (MRC) Platinum Award for a lifetime of exemplary scientific achievement, for inspiring scientific research that has made an outstanding contribution to the health of people living in developing countries.

Professor Kelly Chibale (IDM Member and of the Department of Chemistry, UCT) received an MRC Gold Award for exceptional work, which has had major scientific breakthroughs in health research.

Dr Mohlopheni Marakalala (IDM Associate Member and of the Division of Immunology, Department of Pathology) received an MRC Silver Medal for major scientific contribution to research in health. He also received the College of Fellows Young Researcher Award.

In other good news, Smritee Dabee and Daniel Sheward, two outstanding early-career investigators in the IDM were recently awarded HIV4RP New Investigator Awards, in recognition of the high quality of their research. They are from the research groups of Associate Professor Jo-Ann Passmore and Professor Carolyn Williamson respectively, both Members of the IDM and of the Department of Pathology UCT.

 

New research brings hope of stemming the TB tsunami
Adapted from UCT Research and Innovation 11 November 2016
Val Mizrahi

Professor Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) and her research team have collaborated with international researchers in publishing four new papers on TB drug discovery that have generated considerable attention in the field. Professor Mizrahi and her research team are internationally recognised for their work on studying aspects of the physiology and metabolism of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) relevant to TB drug discovery, as well as drug resistance.

In one of the recently-published studies, done under the auspices of the More Medicines for Tuberculosis (MM4TB) consortium funded by the European Commission, Mizrahi's group worked with collaborators in Switzerland, Italy, Hungary and the United Kingdom (UK) to identify and validate the enzyme GuaB2 as a new TB drug target. This study, led by postdoctoral fellow Dr Vinayak Singh, exemplifies the 'phenotypic' approach to TB drug discovery; which starts with finding a molecule that can inhibit the growth of the TB bacterium, and then figuring out how it works. In this case, MM4TB researchers – led by Stewart Cole from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland – identified a molecule (VCC234718) which could kill the Mtb TB bacterium, but showed limited toxicity against mammalian cells.

In a related study, team member Dr Joanna Evans in the IDM validated a component of Mtb's enzymatic machinery for producing the ubiquitous cofactor 'coenzyme A' as another new TB drug target. As in the GuaB2 study, this project, which was carried out under the TB Drug Accelerator programme funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, involved international collaboration – this time with world-leading scientists from Weill Cornell Medical College and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA.

Collaborative work has benefited all team players, with research groupings within the IDM drawing on one another's experience and expertise, says Mizrahi. These include the MRC/NHLS/UCT Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit, which Mizrahi leads together with her colleague and IDM Associate Member Associate Professor Digby Warner; and others, such as UCT's H3D Centre for Drug Discovery and Development, led by IDM Member Professor Kelly Chibale.

Original article:
http://www.research.uct.ac.za/new-research-brings-hope-stemming-tb-tsunami#sthash.PU78HtGL.dpuf

 

Three Full Members of the IDM inaugurated as new Members of ASSAf
October 2016

We are delighted to announce that Professors Jonathan Blackburn, Clive Gray and Ed Sturrock have been elected into membership of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). As the official Academy of South Africa, a core function of ASSAf is to honour the country's most outstanding scholars by electing them to Membership of the Academy. ASSAf Members are drawn from the full spectrum of disciplines.

Prof Blackburn is based in the IDM as South African Research Chair in Applied Proteomics & Chemical Biology. He is also Head of the Division of Chemical and Systems Biology, within the Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences (IBMS).

Prof Sturrock is Head of the Department of IBMS. His main areas of research/expertise are protein biochemistry, protease inhibitor design, enzyme structure-function relationships, and ectodomain shedding of angiotensin-converting enzyme.

Prof Gray is PI of the HIV Immunology Group whose focus is on different properties of T cells, the epitopic regions that are recognized during early infection, how they contribute to homeostatic balance and ultimately how this balance is disrupted upon HIV exposure and infection. The overall focus is on defining biological risk factors for HIV acquisition. He is also Head of Division of Immunology in the Department of Pathology.

All were inaugurated as new Members at the Academy's awards ceremony held in Pretoria on 12th October 2016.

 

Report back on 2nd EMBO Conference on AIDS-Related Mycoses
Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, UCT, 13-15 July 2016

Professor Graeme Meintjes, Dr Claire Hoving and Professor Gordon Brown represented UCT on the organizing committee of the 2nd EMBO Conference on AIDS-Related Mycoses, an international meeting focused on fungal infections that cause disease in people living with HIV infection. Graeme Meintjes is a Member of the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) based in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) and of the Department of Medicine, UCT; Claire Hoving is a Member of the IDM and of the Department of Pathology, UCT; and Gordon Brown is an Adjunct Member of the IDM and heads the UKMRC Centre for Medical Mycology, Immunity, Infection and Inflammation Programme at the University of Aberdeen, UK.

As part of an ongoing effort to stem the tide of opportunistic fungal infections that continue to take a heavy toll on the most disadvantaged living with HIV-AIDS, over 100 researchers from Africa, Asia, North and South America, Europe and Australasia attended the conference to discuss current progress in the field, and future priorities. Scholarships were awarded to 9 students from African universities outside South Africa plus 20 students from South African universities, to cover all expenses to attend the workshop.

This conference followed on the success of the first meeting held in 2013, also held at the IDM. The programme included plenary sessions on Epidemiology and Public Health, Improving Diagnostics, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Immunology, Drug resistance, Treatment Strategies and new Antifungal Drugs and Vaccines. Detailed updates were given on epidemiology and public health aspects of the major AIDS-related Mycoses such as cryptococcosis, pneumocystosis, histoplasmosis and penicilliosis. Newly recognized HIV-associated invasive fungal infections due to Emmonsia spp were also highlighted. A major concern was that while antiviral rollout appears to have had some impact on the incidence of cryptococcal meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, there is an ongoing epidemic of cryptococcal meningitis due to health system factors, patients being diagnosed with HIV late, and some patients disengaging from ART care or failing ART. Access to available antifungal drugs and the development of novel drugs is an urgent priority due to the emergence of resistance to triazoles in Candida albicans, Cryptococcus neoformans and Aspergillus fumigatus.

A further meeting is planned for 2019. Key goals over the next 3 years are:

  1. Better collaborative working structures for basic scientists and clinical researchers to accelerate translational medicine in this field.
  2. Better diagnostics and improved surveillance to identify infections earlier when treatment outcomes have better success rates.
  3. Access to established drugs, as well as development of new drugs and vaccines, especially in low- and middle-income countries with the highest burden of disease.
  4. Consolidation and extension of consortia for the delivery of multi-centred clinical trials.
  5. Extension of current advocacy groups and public engagement as major funding from governmental and non-governmental organizations is urgently needed.

 

All delegates - EMBO

Delegates attending the 2nd EMBO Conference on AIDS-Related Mycoses

 

Students at EMBO

Students from South Africa and other African countries whose attendance was sponsored by the SA Department of Science and Technology, EMBO, the Wellcome Trust, CIDRI and the Federation of African Immunological Societies, with Graeme Meintjes far left and Dowelani Ndiitwani (SA DST), second from right.

 

New insight into the progression of tuberculosis infection
5 September 2016

Robert Wilkinson An international research team of University of Cape Town (UCT), Stellenbosch University, NIH and UK affiliated scientists have found clear evidence of a separate stage in tuberculosis (TB) infection where people have no symptoms but are more likely to go on and develop the full disease. The findings, published in Nature Medicine (see full details below), suggest that it may be possible to identify which people are most at risk of developing tuberculosis.

Professor Robert Wilkinson is Director of CIDRI based in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) at UCT, and of the Francis Crick Institute and Imperial College London in the UK. The results offer hope in controlling the spread of disease.  "People ill with TB can infect up to 10-15 other people through close contact and if we can identify people in the transition stage before they transmit to other people, that's potentially a game-changer in terms of TB eradication."

Conventionally, TB infection is classed into two stages: 'latent' and 'active'. People with latent infection test positive for an immune response to the tuberculosis bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, but do not have the symptoms of active disease. Around 10% of people with latent TB infection progress to active disease if left untreated. However, currently there is no accurate way to predict which infected individuals will develop the disease.

The researchers screened 265 HIV-positive people for TB infection in Cape Town, South Africa, where tuberculosis incidence is high. Of those who tested positive for latent TB, 35 were recruited to the study and were followed up over a period of six months. The team used a combination of medical imaging techniques to study the patients' lungs – positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) scans – which highlighted areas of lung abnormalities as 'hot spots'.

"We found evidence of differences in disease progression within a group of people that currently would all be diagnosed and managed as having the same latent TB infection, as none of them showed any outward symptoms of tuberculosis," Prof Wilkinson explains. "Those that had evidence of 'subclinical' disease on the PET/CT scans were at higher risk of developing the disease."

The research was supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the US National Institutes of Health, the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the Francis Crick Institute, the Medical Research Council of South Africa, and the European Union.

Original paper:

H Esmail, RP Lai, M Lesosky, KA Wilkinson, CM Graham, AK Coussens, T Oni, JM Warwick, Q Said-Hartley, CF Koegelenberg, G Walzl, JL Flynn, DB Young, CE Barry III, A O'Garra & RJ Wilkinson. Characterization of progressive HIV-associated tuberculosis using 2-deoxy-2-[18F]fluoro-D-glucose positron emission and computed tomography. Nature Medicine (2016) doi:10.1038/nm.4161.

 

Finding NEMO: the first visual evidence of immune response higher-order structures, using super-resolution microscopy
2 September 2016
Musa Mhlanga

Scientists at the CSIR and The University of Cape Town (UCT), in collaboration with colleagues at Institut Pasteur and University College London (UCL), have used super-resolution microscopy to visualise for the first time a key regulatory protein organized in a higher order structure in cells (journal publication details below). The protein called NEMO, for NF-kB Essential MOdulator (also called IKKγ) is critical to several basic cellular processes, and is implicated in our immune and inflammatory responses as well as in cancer.

Many scientists have speculated that proteins like NEMO, responsible for relaying critical signals from outside the cell, do so in a highly coordinated manner. One way in which they imagined this happened is by concentrating these proteins into molecular machines or supramolecular organizing centres, linked together in higher-order structures so that they could create a coordinated response. Despite such speculation, such higher-order structures have never been observed in cells until now. "Fortunately, by combining the fields of physics, biology and chemistry, scientists have been able to overcome this problem," says Dr. Musa Mhlanga, co-senior author based part-time in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) at UCT.

Generally, we imagine the cell to be a bag of molecular soup with the absence of defined structure within the cellular space or cytoplasm. However, until recently, there were no simple approaches to visually prove the existence of such highly ordered and organized cytoplasmic structures by light microscopy. This is largely due to the very basic physical properties of light itself, which cannot resolve objects below 200 nanometres in size. Since many structures in the cell may be smaller than this, they cannot be visualised with conventional microscopy.

Using the state-of-the-art custom-built super-resolved fluorescence microscope, developed by the Mhlanga laboratory and the first of its kind in South Africa, co-first author Janine Scholefield and Anca Savulescu (both based in the Mhlanga laboratory) were able to interrogate the structure and prove its existence. They also showed that only a few of these supramolecular organizing centres were required for a cell to respond to an outside signal, as hypothesized by the Harvard structural biologist Professor Hao Wu.

Importantly, the team was also able to show that cells from patients with a mutation in NEMO, which causes the severe genetic disease Incontinentia Pigmenti (IP) in females, had a damaged version of the NEMO higher-order structure with the lattices absent. IP, also known as "Block-Siemens" syndrome, is a genetic dermatological disorder affecting the skin, hair, teeth and central nervous system.

Dr. Mhlanga is passionate about what this discovery means, globally and to South Africa: "This work germinated from, firstly, a deep insight from Dr. Fabrice Agou, co-senior author who heads up the Chemogenomic and Biological Screening Core Facility at Institut Pasteur in Paris, and secondly, a desire to answer a fundamental long-standing question in signal transduction using cutting-edge technology that we developed here in South Africa. Our goal is that scientists in Africa should not simply be consumers of fundamental scientific discoveries; rather they should be active contributors and producers to this body of basic scientific knowledge. We would like to train the next generation of scientists in Africa to become excellent scientists who routinely produce ground-breaking work. In this endeavor, we are very grateful for the continued support we receive from the SA Department of Science and Technology for several aspects of this work over the last years."

Dr. Mhlanga heads the CSIR's Synthetic Biology programme through his Gene Expression and Biophysics research group, and is Honorary Research Associate in the Division of Chemical Systems & Synthetic Biology, UCT, as well as a Member of the IDM. In an exciting new development, Mhlanga now leads the newly established Biomedical Translational Research Initiative (BTRI) based in the IDM, an initiative supported by the SA Department of Science and Technology through a partnership between UCT and the CSIR. The BRTI is expected to have a profound impact on IDM-based research and training programmes by significantly enhancing the light microscopy platform at UCT. The BTRI is located in a purpose-built laboratory in the IDM, and has the ultimate goal of translation of biomedical research results into products that are clinically useful and commercially viable.

Original paper:

J Scholefield, R Henriques, AF Savulescu, E Fontan, A Boucharlat, E Laplantine, A Smahi, A Israël, F Agou, MM Mhlanga. Super-resolution microscopy reveals a preformed NEMO lattice structure that is collapsed in Incontinentia Pigmenti. Nature Communications (2016) 7:12629, doi: 10.1038/ncomms12629.

 

Professor Valerie Mizrahi renewed as NRF 'A' rated scientist
Valerie Mizrahi

Professor Valerie Mizrahi, Director of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) was recently invited to attend the national award ceremony held by the National Research Foundation, recognizing top research achievers in the country. Prof. Mizrahi was re-awarded her 'A' rating, a significant achievement acknowledging her recognition as a leading international scientist.

Of the total number of A-rated researchers in South Africa, about a third are based at UCT (37) and 5 are Full Members of the IDM; aside from Prof Mizrahi this includes Professors F Brombacher, E Rybicki, J Van Honk and RJ Wilkinson.

Prof. Mizrahi and her research team are internationally recognised for their work on aspects of the physiology and metabolism in Mycobacterium tuberculosis of relevance to TB drug discovery and drug resistance.  Two exciting papers just published by the MMRU include:

The inosine monophosphate dehydrogenase, GuaB2, is a vulnerable new bactericidal drug target for tuberculosis.
Vinayak Singh, Stefano Donini, Angela Pacitto, Claudia Sala, Ruben C Hartkoorn, Neeraj Dhar, György Kéri, David B. Ascher, Guillaume Mondesert, Anthony Vocat, Andréanne Lupien, Raphael Sommer, Hélène Vermet, Sophie Lagrange, Joe Buechler, Digby F. Warner, John D. McKinney, Janos Pato, Stewart T. Cole, Tom L. Blundell, Menico Rizzi, and Valerie Mizrahi. ACS Infectious Diseases (2016), DOI: 10.1021/acsinfecdis.6b00102.

During the course of screening a library of compounds for whole-cell activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), this international collaboration identified a molecule, VCC234718, with promising anti-tubercular activity and limited mammalian cell toxicity. Using a combination of chemical biology, enzymology and structural biology, they showed that the target of VCC234718 in Mtb is the inosine-5'-monophosphate dehydrogenase GuaB2, an enzyme which catalyses the NAD+-dependent conversion of inosine 5'-monophosphate to xanthosine 5'-monophosphate in the de novo purine biosynthesis pathway. They further showed that GuaB2 depletion is bactericidal in Mtb in vitro, in macrophages, and in mouse lung. Together, these data validate GuaB2 as a new TB drug target.

Bioluminescent reporters for rapid mechanism of action assessment in tuberculosis drug discovery.
Naran K, Moosa A, Barry CE III, Boshoff HI, Mizrahi V, Warner DF.
Antimicrob Agents Chemother (2016) Aug 29. pii: AAC.01178-16. [Epub ahead of print]

The tuberculosis (TB) drug discovery pipeline is fuelled by compounds identified in whole-cell screens against the causative agent, M. tuberculosis. Deducing the mechanism of action (MOA) often requires significant biological resources in a lengthy process that risks decoupling medicinal chemistry and biology efforts. There is a need to develop methods enabling rapid MOA assessment of putative "actives" for triage decisions. In this paper they describe a modified version of a bioluminescence reporter assay that allows non-destructive detection of compounds targeting either of two macromolecular processes in M. tuberculosis: cell wall biosynthesis, or maintenance of DNA integrity. Their results demonstrate the utility of the two reporters for early triage of compounds based on provisional MOA, with suggestions given as to their application to investigate polypharmacology in known and experimental anti-TB agents.

 

 
 
Dr. Justin Nono Komguep selected to participate in the "Global Immunology Challenges for Young Investigators", Australia
August 2016
Justin Nono Komguep

Dr. Justin Nono Komguep, postdoctoral fellow from the Cameroon and based with Professor Frank Brombacher (ICGEB, Division of Immunology and the IDM), was chosen as one of four top young immunologists from emerging countries to receive travel awards from BioLegend and present their data at the symposium on "Global Immunology Challenges for Young Investigators", hosted within the International Congress of Immunology in Melbourne, Australia, on August 24th 2016. 

The other participants included Dan Liu from Beijing, China; Maria Korotetskaya from Moscow, Russian Federation, and Juan Sebastian Pappalardo from Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina.  After their talks, they then participated in a panel discussion focusing on the challenges of building a career in global immunological research to solve the problems facing developing nations.

Dr. Komguep holds the prestigious Sydney Brenner Fellowship (2016-2017), awarded by the Academy of Science of South Africa, and focuses on characterizing transgenic murine models to identify host factors that could confer resistance against schistosomiasis (bilharzia).

 

Professor Robin Wood finalist for Lifetime Award, NSTF
August 2016
Robin Wood

Professor Robin Wood, Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, Emeritus Professor of Medicine and member of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), was recently selected as a finalist for the 2015/2016 The National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Awards in the 'Lifetime Award' category (for an outstanding contribution to SET and innovation by an individual over a period of 15 years or more). The NSTF Awards, in partnership with South32, recognise outstanding contributions to science, engineering and technology (SET) and innovation by researchers and other SET-related professionals.

Professor Wood was one of the first physicians to treat and document the morbidity and mortality of South African patients living with HIV and AIDS. He became an early advocate of antiretroviral therapy, allying with civil society to plead in the constitutional court for wider access for therapy. His studies of HIV and TB led him to recognise the high levels of TB transmission and to model transmission probabilities in South African prisons, schools and transport. TB transmission subsequently became a research priority of the World Health Organisation.

Professor Wood currently leads an SAMRC UCT multidisciplinary research team which is studying the aerobiology of TB transmission.

 

Drug Discovery and Development Centre, H3D, identifies a second potent anti-malarial candidate
Adapted from UCT Research and Innovation 27 July 2016

Kelly Chibale

The University of Cape Town (UCT)'s Drug Discovery and Development Centre, H3D, has identified a new potent anti-malarial development candidate with potential for both treatment and prevention of malaria. The compound, referred to as UCT943, is the second preclinical candidate to come out of the collaboration led by H3D involving the Switzerland-based Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and an international network of partners. The data so far shows that UCT943 has potent activity against all stages of the malaria parasite life-cycle and has the potential to block transmission of the parasite from person to person. This will all be the focus of the next studies, and will ultimately need to be validated in humans.

H3D is Africa's first integrated drug discovery and development centre, led by Professor Kelly Chibale of the Department of Chemistry and member of the IDM. When H3D was first launched in 2010, it was a team of five academic postdoctoral research scientists. Now, H3D has grown to a team of over fifty, attracting industry-experienced drug discoverers from pharmaceutical companies based in India, the USA and Europe. It is also helping to train a new generation of African scientists, creating strong foundations for the future. This transformation has allowed the transfer of key skills and technology to South Africa: from medicinal chemistry to biology and pharmacokinetics. The H3D portfolio also includes projects targeting tuberculosis drug discovery and is now expanding to address the serious threat of Antimicrobial Resistance, specifically resistant Gram negative bacteria.

For the full article see:
www.research.uct.ac.za/uct%E2%80%99s-drug-discovery-and-development-centre-h3d-identifies-second-potent-anti-malarial-candidate

 

Bill Horsnell awarded a Le Studium-Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellowship
July 2016
Bill Horsnell

Associate Professor William (Bill) Horsnell, member of the IDM and from the Division of Immunology, UCT, has been awarded a coveted Le Studium-Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellowship. This fellowship will provide support for Bill and his family to undertake a sabbatical year in 2017 working on acute lung inflammation. He will be based in the laboratory "Molecular and Experimental Immunology and Neurogenetics" directed by Dr Valérie Quesniaux and based at CNRS-Orléans, France, together with IDM Adjunct Member Professor Bernhard Ryffel, Director of Research, CNRS, and of the University Orléans, France.

 

New robotic liquid handling platform for SATVI to assist with RNA extractions
June 2016

Researchers at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) of the IDM, UCT, have acquired a Tecan Freedom EVO 150, to be used as a robotic liquid handling platform. They will conduct RNA extractions from PAXgene whole blood tubes and downstream cDNA synthesis steps of ±11,000 samples acquired over 12 months.  The RNA will be analyzed by qRT-PCR using the correlate of risk (COR) test to measure risk of TB disease.

A new TB vaccine trial begins in July 2016, dubbed CORTIS (Correlate of Risk Targeted Intervention Study) to impact TB control. The PI is Associate Professor Mark Hatherill, and the research is funded mainly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the SAMRC-SHIP programme. They will test whether short course preventative therapy reduces the rate of incident TB disease, compared to standard of care (active surveillance) in COR+ persons.

The robot is fully customizable and once the study has been completed, may be retro-fitted for other purposes.

Tecan EVO 150

     Mr Mzwandile Erasmus, Medical Technologist, SATVI

 

Dr. Abhimanyu, CIDRI, awarded prestigious AXA fellowship
June 2016

AbhiDr. Abhimanyu Abhimanyu, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) in the IDM, has been awarded a prestigious and highly competitive AXA Fellowship for 3 years, beginning in 2017, from the AXA Research Fund.

The AXA Research Fund, the research-funding branch of the global insurance brand, seeks to contribute to a greater understanding and prevention of risk worldwide, including environmental, life and socio-economic risk. Fellowships are one of the instruments through which they attempt to achieve this aim.

Dr. Abhimanyu has just recently joined the CIDRI, and presently holds an NRF postdoctoral fellowship. He is co-hosted by Professor Robert Wilkinson, Director of CIDRI, and Dr Anna Coussens, also of CIDRI and Senior Lecturer in the Division of Medical Microbiology, and his research focus is on 'Epigenetic biomarkers for tuberculosis'. Dr Abhimanyu was previously at the University of Johannesburg as a Claude Leon Foundation Fellow, and prior to that completed his PhD in Medical Microbiology from the University of Delhi, India.

Dr. Abhimanyu is the second person in the IDM to be granted an AXA fellowship. The first, Dr Nadia Chanzu from Kenya, will be investigating why HIV-positive pregnant women on antiretroviral therapy are at particular risk of pre-term births, while on a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at UCT hosted by Professor Clive Gray and Dr Heather Jaspan, both based within the Division of Immunology. Dr Chanzu is also the first African researcher at an African university to be awarded this fellowship.

 

Biomarker study provides insight into TB disease risk in young children
18 May 2016, adapted from SATVI news

A team of scientists from the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) in the IDM, in collaboration with multiple international research groups, have made a discovery that enhances understanding of how the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine stimulates our immune systems to protect against tuberculosis (TB). Their main finding was that the immune systems of different groups of infants respond differently to the BCG vaccine, implying that different mechanisms of protection against TB may exist within a population.

Professor Willem Hanekom, PI, previously of the IDM and now at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said: "The study results have important implications for new vaccine development, as we would have to take into account that the vaccine may work through distinct mechanisms in different persons from the same population." The team used advanced techniques to measure gene expression, cell types and their function in the blood of BCG vaccinated healthy infants to identify differences that could predict the development of TB disease in those not protected by the vaccine. They showed that some of the infants who fell ill with TB, later on had a stronger T cell response to the vaccine in the presence of elevated levels of anti-inflammatory monocytes, which may be involved in the pathogenesis of TB.

The research team were funded by the NIH, EDCTP, European Commission, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Aeras.

Full article:
'Human newborn bacille Calmette–Guérin vaccination and risk of tuberculosis disease: a case-control study'. Helen A. Fletcher et al. BMC Medicine (2016) 14:76. doi: 10.1186/s12916-016-0617-3.

 

BCG and new preventive tuberculosis vaccines: implications for healthcare workers
3 May 2016, adapted from SATVI news
Mark HatherillTom Scriba

In research led by Associate Professors Mark Hatherill and Tom Scriba, respectively Director and Deputy Director of SATVI, have co-authored a paper entitled: "BCG and New Preventive Tuberculosis Vaccines: Implications for Healthcare Workers". Healthcare workers (HCWs) are at high risk of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection and tuberculosis disease, but also play a crucial role in implementing healthcare. Pre-exposure tuberculosis vaccination, including revaccination with BCG, might benefit Mtb-uninfected HCWs, but most HCWs in tuberculosis-endemic countries are already sensitized to mycobacteria. A new postexposure tuberculosis vaccine offers greatest potential for protection, in the setting of repeated occupational Mtb exposure.

Full article:
'BCG and New Preventive Tuberculosis Vaccines: Implications for Healthcare Workers.' Hatherill M, Scriba TJ, Udwadia ZF, Mullerpattan JB, Hawkridge A, Mahomed H, Dye C. Clinical Infectious Diseases (2016), 62(3):S262-7. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciw025.

 

Bacteria that cause tuberculosis can live in the walls of lymph vessels
February 2016 (Adapted from CIDRI news February 2016)

Recently published TB research from the Francis Crick Institute in London, led by Dr Max Gutierrez and in collaboration with Professor Robert J Wilkinson, Director of the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI), IDM, could explain why people can be treated for TB hiding outside the lungs, recover and then get it again. The team found Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria intact inside cells taken from samples of human lymph tissue.

The number of people affected by TB that takes hold outside of the lungs - extrapulmonary TB - has increased dramatically in the past decade. Lymph nodes are the most common site of infection. Almost one in five people who are HIV positive experience extrapulmonary TB. This is the first time that endothelial cells, that line the walls of the lymph vessels, have been shown to have a role in TB. The study was performed using tissue samples from people living in South Africa whose lymph nodes were sampled to diagnose extrapulmonary TB. However, the problem exists worldwide.

Full article:
'Lymphatic endothelial cells are a replicative niche for M. tuberculosis'. Journal of Clinical Investigation (2016) 126(3):1093-108. doi: 10.1172/JCI83379.

More details: http://www.cidri.uct.ac.za/cidri/news/2016

 

Erica Smit (SATVI) named by the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry as one of their Emerging Leaders
April 2016
Erica Smit

The International Society for Advancement of Cytometry (ISAC) recently announced the five scientists who were chosen as their 2016-2020 Shared Resource Lab (SRL) Emerging Leaders. They include Erica Smit, Flow Cytometry Core Manager & Senior Scientific Officer of the South African TB Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), in the IDM. She is one of five international young scientists chosen.

The ISAC SRL Leadership Development program is designed to enhance and develop the next generation of emerging leaders in SRL operations who will also help further the field of cytometry. Being chosen as an ISAC SRL Emerging Leader recognizes your leadership potential, technical expertise and ability to achieve your career goals.

 

Professor Raj Ramesar internationally recognised for contribution to Human Genetics
Extracted from Faculty of Health Sciences newsletter 15 Mar 2016
Raj Ramesar

Congratulations to Professor Raj Ramesar, Head of the Division of Human Genetics and IDM Member, for receiving the inaugural Africa Award Human Genome Organisation (HUGO), following delivery of a plenary lecture at the HUGO International Conference in Houston, USA in February 2016.

HUGO is a body that represents the international field of Human Genomics. Nomination and selection for the award is made by a group of peers from the scientific community and is in recognition of the positive contributions made by recipients to the field of human genetics.

This prestigious award is another crowning accomplishment in Prof Ramesar's distinguished career, which includes serving as the Director of the UCT/MRC Human Genetics Research Unit, and CANSA's Colorectal Cancer Research Consortium. He is also principal investigator on the Retinal Degenerative Disorders research project, which has made several advances in the identification of genetic causes of RDDs since its inception. Apart from being involved directly with several established research projects aimed at elucidating the genetic basis of diseases in South Africa, he is currently channeling his energy in setting up research into understanding the genetic basis of the more complex yet common chronic disorders (e.g. hypertension) in our populations.

 

Drs. Tolu Oni and Mohlopheni Jackson Marakalala attend the Next Einstein Forum
10 March 2016

Drs. Tolu Oni and Mohlopheni Jackson Marakalala were selected as part of a group of 12 young research leaders to represent Africa at the Next Einstein Forum (NEF).

Tolu OniMohlopheni Jackson Marakalala

Tolu is past PhD student & postdoc of Professor Robert Wilkinson (CIDRI and IDM Member), and is now Senior Lecturer in the Department of Public Health & Family Medicine at UCT. Mohlopheni did his PhD at UCT, and after completing a postdoc with Professor Gordon Brown (now at the University of Aberdeen, and IDM Adjunct Member) and Professor Muazzam Jacobs (Division of Immunology and IDM Member), Mohlopheni spent three years at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health with Dr Eric Rubin. Since January 2016, Mohlopheni is back at UCT and has taken up the position of Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pathology's Division of Immunology.

The NEF is an initiative of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in partnership with Robert Bosch Stiftung. Central to the NEF's vision of propelling Africa onto the global scientific stage, the NEF Fellows presented their research at the NEF Global Gathering held 8-10 March 2016 in Dakar, Senegal, under the patronage of President Macky Sall.

For further information about this initiative, you can go to:
http://cajnewsafrica.com/2015/11/18/africas-most-influential-young-scientists-revealed/

 

Discovery of blood test to predict potential for developing TB disease
March 2016
Tom ScribaMark Hatherill

Identification of blood biomarkers that prospectively predict progression of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection to tuberculosis disease might lead to interventions that combat the tuberculosis epidemic. The outcomes of a 10-year landmark study, which aimed to assess whether global gene expression measured in whole blood of healthy people allowed identification of prospective signatures of risk of active tuberculosis disease, have been published in the leading medical journal The Lancet (full details below). The research was led by the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) of the IDM, UCT, and the Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) in Seattle, USA, including Associate Professors Thomas Scriba (Deputy Director SATVI) and Mark Hatherill (Director, SATVI), both of the Division of Immunology, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, and Full Members of the IDM.

The authors report the discovery of a blood test that can predict whether someone is likely to develop tuberculosis (TB) disease, long before the disease manifests. With this newly discovered biomarker test, it will now be possible to identify 75% of those who will progress to TB disease, ensuring early detection and benefit from health care. They studied gene expression patterns in blood samples selected from more than 6,000 teenagers from Worcester, South Africa, who were followed for more than 2 years to identify those who did or did not develop TB disease.

The "correlate of risk" blood test measures a gene expression signature. Confirmation that the gene expression signature could predict TB disease was completed using samples from another cohort of 4,500 adults from South Africa and The Gambia. These study participants were enrolled within a large international collaborative effort between researchers from South Africa, The Gambia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Germany, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Funding was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the US National Institutes of Health, the European Union and the South African Medical Research Council.

SATVI are about to launch the Correlate of Risk Targeted Intervention Study (CORTIS), which Associate Professor Hatherill leads on behalf of a consortium of South African, US and UK researchers. CORTIS is a randomised, partially-blinded, clinical trial that will test whether Isoniazid and Rifapentine therapy can prevent pulmonary tuberculosis in high-risk (COR+) individuals. If CORTIS shows that the COR test enables selective treatment for those at high risk of tuberculosis, they will then be able to start developing a point-of-care tool that would have potential for major impact on the global tuberculosis epidemic.  The research to date has focused only on individuals without HIV infection. Given the large number of people living with HIV, they intend to also develop the COR test in such a way that prediction of the risk of developing tuberculosis in HIV-infected people would be possible.

Journal article:
'A blood RNA signature for tuberculosis disease risk: a prospective cohort study'.
Zak DE*, Penn-Nicholson A*, Scriba TJ*, Thompson E†, Suliman S†, Amon LM, Mahomed H, Erasmus M, Whatney W, Hussey GD, Abrahams D, Kafaar F, Hawkridge T, Verver S, Hughes EJ, Ota M, Sutherland J, Howe R, Dockrell HM, Boom WH, Thiel B, Ottenhoff TH, Mayanja-Kizza H, Crampin AC, Downing K, Hatherill M, Valvo J, Shankar S, Parida SK, Kaufmann SH, Walzl G, Aderem A, Hanekom WA; ACS and GC6-74 cohort study groups.
The Lancet (2016) March 23, pii: S0140-6736(15)01316-1

(IDM affiliation at time of research; *Contributed equally. †Contributed equally)

Further articles:
www.satvi.uct.ac.za/news/24-march-2016-test-predict-risk-developing-tb-disease/
www.internationalinnovation.com/a-world-without-tuberculosis/

 

Clinical studies reveal effectiveness of vaginal microbicide ring in preventing HIV infection
February 2016
Linda-Gail Bekker

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, CEO of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre (DTHC) and member of the IDM, and her colleagues were part of two multi-country trials determining over a number of years the effectiveness of dapivirine vaginal microbicide rings in the prevention of HIV infection in women.

Both trials showed statistically significant reductions in HIV infections among women who used the vaginal ring containing the ARV dapivirine. Both trials also established that the dapivirine ring, used continuously for a month at a time, is safe to use.  Risk of HIV infection was reduced overall by 27% and by 61% in women older than 25 years.

The results of the two trials, called ASPIRE/MTN 020 and The Ring Study/IPM 027, were disclosed at a press conference at the Conference on Retroviral and Opportunistic Infection in Boston, USA on Monday 22nd February 2016. The DTHC & Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation clinical research sites at Crossroads and Masiphumelele, Cape Town (respectively), were involved in both studies.

DTHC

For more details see:
The New England Journal of Medicine online (NEJM.org), 22 February 2016

ASPIRE news release

IPM-PR news release
Biopharming: the next DNA vaccine might come from tobacco!
February 2016

In a recently published paper, Professor Ed Rybicki (IDM Member and of the Dept. Molecular and Cell Biology, Science Faculty, UCT) and his colleagues record the first demonstration of the potential of plants to make DNA vaccines.

In a pioneering step towards using plants to produce vaccines against cervical cancer and other diseases caused by viruses, Professor Rybicki and colleagues have generated synthetic human papillomavirus-derived viral particles called pseudovirions in tobacco plants.  This is the first time researchers have successfully created pseudovirions in plants, until now, only created in yeast or mammalian cell cultures. "We've succeeded in making a completely mammalian viral particle in a plant - proteins, DNA, everything. That's enormously exciting," says Dr Inga Hitzeroth of the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) at UCT which is directed by Prof Rybicki.

For more details see:
'Production of Human papillomavirus pseudovirions in plants and their use in pseudovirion-based neutralisation assays in mammalian cells'. Scientific Reports 6: 20431, by RL Lamprecht, P Kennedy, SM Huddy, S Bethke, M Hendrikse, I Hitzeroth & EP Rybicki.

Or more news in the SABC article here

 

Biopharming
Dr Anne Meyers, Prof Ed Rybicki, & Dr Inga Hitzeroth of the
Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) with young tobacco plants

 

Dr Anna Coussens elected as fellow, Africa Science Leadership Programme
February 2016
Anna Coussens

Dr Anna Coussens is based in the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) in the IDM and is appointed as Senior Lecturer in the Division of Medical Microbiology in the Department of Pathology, UCT. She has been chosen, along with 21 other scientists from within Africa, to participate in the next Africa Science Leadership Programme (ASLP) which will focus on 'Leading a new paradigm for African Science'.

The ASLP recognises the need to develop the skills of the next generation of scientists to lead more interdisciplinary and globally connected teams to resolve & address the complex challenges the world faces. The scientists represent basic and applied sciences, and span a wide variety of disciplines including the social sciences and humanities.

The Program starts on 11 April with a week-long workshop, diving deeply into topics such as collective leadership and science communication. The ASLP is run by the University of Pretoria in partnership with the Global Young Academy, and is funded by the Robert Bosch Foundation.

In 2014 Dr Coussens was elected to the Global Young Academy, where she now sits on the Board and is the southern Africa lead on a project to investigate the Global State of Young Scientists.

 

Professor Gordon Brown appointed Director of the new MRC Centre for Medical Mycology at the University of Aberdeen
February 2016

Professor Gordon Brown, a Founder and Adjunct Member of the IDM, has been appointed Director of the new MRC Centre for Medical Mycology at the University of Aberdeen, the first of its kind in the UK for fungal research.

Based at the Aberdeen Fungal Group, University of Aberdeen, for the last few years, Gordon remains closely linked to the IDM. He upholds his passion for promoting Medical Mycology research in South Africa, evident by his continued support of young South African scientists in the field with several South African students and postdoctoral fellows training in his Aberdeen laboratory. Dr Claire Hoving (newly appointed as an IDM Associate Member) joined Gordon Brown's group as a postdoctoral fellow in 2013 to head his Cape Town based laboratory within the IDM and Department of Pathology. Their research has resulted in exciting new insights into the role of C-type lectins and the causative agent of tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB). Gordon will continue to play a pivotal role as Claire establishes her own research programme on Pneumocystis pneumonia, an opportunistic fungal infection and leading cause of death in AIDS patients.

Gordon also collaborates with many IDM members including Professors Frank Brombacher (ICGEB and Division of Immunology), Graeme Meintjes and Robert Wilkinson (CIDRI and Department of Medicine), and Muazzam Jacobs (Division of Immunology), as well as Dr Wendy Burgers and Professor Anne-Lise Williamson (Division of Virology).

Together with Gordon's strong links and continued support for Medical Mycology in South Africa, it is likely his new MRC Centre will spearhead much needed focus on the detrimental effects fungal infections play on our African based populations, putting South African fungal research at the forefront with other internationally recognized groups. More information on the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/news/8665/

TO NOTE: Originally co-established by Gordon and drawing world leaders in the field of Medical Mycology, the second EMBO HIV-related Mycoses Meeting is to be hosted in the IDM, Cape Town, 13-15 July 2016 http://aidsmycoses2016.co.za/

 

Graeme Meintjes & colleagues show HIV related admissions in SA hospitals remain very common despite ARV scale-up
January 2016
Graeme Meintjes

Professor Graeme Meintjes and colleagues recently published a paper of public interest entitled "HIV-related medical admissions to a South African district hospital remain frequent despite effective antiretroviral therapy scale-up". Professor Meintjes is based in the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI), IDM and the Department of Medicine, UCT.

South Africa has the largest human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic in the world with an estimated 6.4 million people living with HIV infection. The public sector antiretroviral (ART) programme was launched in 2004.  Over the past decade there has been an unprecedented scale-up of the programme with more than 2.6 million people having initiated ART. Little however is known about the impact of the ART programme on adult HIV-related hospitalizations and outcomes at the level of public sector hospitals in South Africa. Thus, the authors sought to define the hospital-level epidemiology of HIV infection. Based on their findings, they explore reasons why, in the presence of ART availability, a substantial number of admissions and deaths continue to occur.

"HIV-related medical admissions to a South African district hospital remain frequent despite effective antiretroviral therapy scale-up"
G Meintjes, AD Kerkhoff, R Burton, C Schutz, A Boulle, G Van Wyk, L Blumenthal, MP Nicol and SD Lawn
Medicine Vol. 94 Number 50, December 2015

PDF  Publication

 

Professor Valerie Mizrahi given highest rating by the National Research Foundation
26 November 2015
Val Mizrahi

Professor Valerie Mizrahi, Director and Full Member of the IDM and of the Division of Medical Microbiology, has been awarded an 'A1' rating by the National Research Foundation of South Africa.  'A' rated scientists are considered Leading international researchers: recognised by all reviewers as a leading scholar in her field internationally for the high quality and wide impact (i.e. beyond a narrow field of specialisation) of her recent research outputs.

NRF ratings are completed every 6 years. The NRF rating system is a key driver in the NRF's aim to build a globally competitive science system in South Africa. It is considered a valuable tool for benchmarking the quality of South African researchers. Ratings are allocated based on a researcher's recent research outputs and impact as perceived by international and local peer reviewers.

 

 

2nd EMBO Workshop on AIDS-related Mycoses
13-15 July 2016. To be hosted in the IDM

 

2nd EMBO Workshop

 

Awards for IDM Members
20 October 2015
Robert Millar

Congratulations to Professor Robert (Bob) Millar who has been awarded the John F. W. Herschel Medal (2016) from the Royal Society of South Africa, awarded in recognition of Highly Distinguished Multidisciplinary Contributions to the Furtherance of Science. Bob is a Full Member of the IDM and co-directs the IDM-based UCT/MRC Research Group for Receptor Biology with Professor Arieh Katz, but also serves as Director of the University of Pretoria Mammal Research Institute, and is President of the International Neuroendocrinology Federation.

The award is made for Bob's exceptional contribution to science in South Africa, with a long career of world-class high-impact research across multiple fields with a very strong interdisciplinary theme.

 

Graeme Meintjes

Professor Graeme Meintjes was elected a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa. He is based in the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) in the IDM where he is a Full Member, and is of the Department of Medicine, UCT.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Scriba - Royal Society

At the September 2015 Royal Society of South Africa's Annual Dinner, Associate Professor Tom Scriba was presented with the Meiring Naude Medal for 2014 . Tom is Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town and Deputy Director, Immunology at South African TB Vaccine Initiative. The award was presented by Society Councillor Professor Marilize le Roes-Hill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016-2017 Sydney Brenner Fellowship awarded to IDM Postdoctoral Fellow
19 October 2015
Justin Nono Komguep

Dr. Justin Nono Komguep, a postdoctoral research fellow with Professor Frank Brombacher (ICGEB, Division of Immunology and IDM) has been awarded the prestigious 2015 Sydney Brenner Fellowship from the Academy of Science of South Africa.

Dr. Nono completed his BSc, BSc (Hons) and MSc in Biochemistry at the University of Yaoundé 1 working on the influence of hemoglobinopathies on antimalarial therapy.  He then joined the University of Wuerzburg, Germany on a PhD scholarship to work on the characterization of secreted products of parasitic helminths and their potency in facilitating infection, receiving his PhD Summa Cum Laude. His PhD work enabled the characterisation of novel immunomodulatory parasite factors.

In 2014, under a NRF Postdoctoral Fellowship, he joined the ICGEB in the IDM to work on the identification of host protective mechanisms against helminths, with a focus on schistosomes; and in 2015, was awarded a Claude Leon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue his research.

As a Sydney Brenner Fellow (2016-2017), Dr. Nono will be characterizing more transgenic murine models to identify host factors that could confer resistance against Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia).

To equip his research endeavors with a clinically relevant component, Dr. Nono (Co-PI) mentored by Prof. Frank Brombacher (PI) also secured an ICGEB collaborative grant (2016-2018) with partners from the Ministry of Scientific research and Innovation in Cameroon. The research Grant should enable the collection and analyses of samples from schistosomiasis-diseased patients in Cameroon.

 

IDM Postdoctoral fellow published in Nature Medicine as senior author
13 October 2015
Colin Anthony

Dr. Colin Anthony, was one of the co-authors on this study published in Nature Medicine, entitled: 'Viral variants that initiate and drive maturation of V1V2-directed HIV-1 broadly neutralizing antibodies' by JN Bhiman, Colin Anthony and national & international collaborators (Nature Medicine (2015) Oct 12. doi:10.1038/nm.3963).

Using state of the art next generation sequencing technologies, which allow one to sequence a large portion of the viral population, Colin was able to identify how the viral population changed in response to the immune system, over four years of infection. These findings, together with data from collaborators at Wits, provided critical insight into what caused these broadly neutralizing antibodies to develop, providing a strategy which may guide future HIV vaccine design.

Colin is a Post-doctoral Researcher in the HIV Diversity group led by Professor Carolyn Williamson, who is Full member of the IDM and HOD of the Department of Pathology at the Faculty of Health Sciences. He joined the group in March 2013.

 

PhD student awarded best poster at World STI and HIV conference in Brisbane, Australia
20 September 2015

Ms Smritee Dabee is a PhD final year student in the IDM, supervised by Associate Professor Jo-Ann Passmore in the Division of Medical Virology and co-supervised by Dr Heather Jaspan in the Division of Immunology. She attended the World STI and HIV conference in Brisbane, Australia where she was awarded the best poster prize at this prestigious meeting where 1,300 delegates presented their work, a fantastic achievement.

Originally from Mauritius, she completed her undergrad and Masters degrees at UCT. Her PhD title is 'Factors affecting susceptibility to HIV infection in the adolescent genital tract'. The winning poster was entitled 'Genital tract cellular activation and inflammation associated with highly prevalent sexually transmitted infections and bacterial vaginosis in adolescent women at risk for HIV infection' with other authors Shaun Barnabas (IDM), Heather Jaspan (IDM), Shameem Jaumdally (IDM), Hoyam Gamieldien (IDM), Lindi Masson (UCT), David Lewis (Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, University of Sydney), Melissa Wallace (DTHF, IDM), Thola Bennie (DTHF, IDM), Clive Gray (IDM), Anna-Lise Williamson (IDM), Tom Hope (Northwestern University), Francesca Chiodi (Karolinska Institute), Robin Shattock (Imperial College) and Linda-Gail Bekker (DTHF, IDM).

Smritee receiving her award from the IUSTI (International Union for STIs) president.

Smritee Dabee

 

FHS Young Investigator's Award: Best Publication 2014 (Basic Sciences)
Suraj Parihar

Dr Suraj Parihar, a postdoctoral fellow of the IDM/ICGEB in the Division of Immunology hosted by Professor Frank Brombacher (ICGEB and IDM), has won the FHS Young Investigator's Award: Best Publication 2014 (Basic Sciences) with the paper entitled:

"Statin therapy reduces the Mycobacterium tuberculosis burden in human macrophages and in mice by enhancing autophagy and phagosome maturation". Parihar SP, Guler R, Khutlang R, Lang DM, Hurdayal R, Mhlanga MM, Suzuki H, Marais AD, Brombacher F. Published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, 209(5): 754-763.

Their results suggest that statin-mediated reduction in cholesterol levels within phagosomal membranes counteract M. tuberculosis–induced inhibition of phagosomal maturation and promote host-induced autophagy, thereby augmenting host protection against tuberculosis.

 

UCT Postdoctoral fellow the first African on prestigious programme
Adapted from UCT News 10 Sep 2015
Benjamin Kagina

Dr. Benjamin Kagina of Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA, directed by Professor Gregory Hussey in the IDM) has been selected as a fellow for the 2015 Young Investigator Program of the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Vaccine and the Edward Jenner Vaccine Society.  He also becomes the first scientist from Africa to be chosen.

Established in 2014, the Young Investigator Program aims to assist in developing the careers of the next generation of vaccinologists.

 

 

 

 

Tutu Teen Truck project launched
Adapted from the Faculty of Health Sciences communication 27 Aug 2015
Tutu truck

Left: Tom Lindsay President of Alere Africa, centre: Zolani Mahola lead singer of
the popular band Freshlyground, right: Marc Matthews President of Alere Africa

 

On the 13th of August the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation launched the Tutu Teen Truck project in partnership with Alere Inc., a global leader in rapid diagnostics. Alere Inc. provided a R2.5 million grant which will support the Foundation and expand the reach of infectious, sexual and reproductive services for youth and adolescents from communities around Cape Town.

The Tutu Teen Truck is the second vehicle in the Tutu Tester mobile services fleet. It is a self-sufficient mobile healthcare unit equipped with two counselling rooms and a dispensing cubicle. The vehicle will be used to provide counselling and healthcare services to youth around Cape Town's under-served communities. In addition to HIV, TB and STI screening, a wellness package known as HCT PLUS will include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cervical, breast and testicular cancer.

 

Helen Cox wins the 2015 Union Scientific Prize from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.
Aug 2015
Helen Cox

Dr. Helen Cox, Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellow in the Division of Medical Microbiology, Department of Pathology, and Associate Member of the IDM since 2013, has been awarded the 2015 Union Scientific Prize from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

The Union Scientific Prize acknowledges researchers at any stage of their career for work in lung health published in the past five years. This is a significant achievement for Dr. Cox. She will receive this prestigious award at the 46th World Conference on Lung Health, which will be held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in December 2015.

Dr. Cox's main research interests revolve around the diagnosis, treatment and epidemiology of drug-resistant tuberculosis. "I have worked in the area of tuberculosis and drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) since 2001. Over several years, I was instrumental in the establishment of one of the first drug-resistant TB treatment programmes in Central Asia. The setting for this programme, in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan, was also where I conducted research towards my doctoral degree". Her thesis was submitted through the University of Melbourne, Australia, from where she originates, and was conferred in 2006.

Dr. Cox's research and contributions to the TB landscape were later acknowledged by Australia when she received the Premier's Award for Medical Research 2007 (Victoria, Australia). Since 2008, she has been involved in operational research in Khayelitsha, where a high burden of DR-TB exists. Among a number of current research interests is a study of the molecular epidemiology of DR-TB, particularly the potential impact of diagnosis and treatment interventions on changing DR-TB strain virulence and distribution.

"Throughout my career in TB research, I have endeavoured to combine public health practise with academic research, with a view to using relevant, field-based research to change policy and improve patient outcomes". Two recent outstanding publications with research led by Dr. Cox include:

Cox H, Mbhele S, Mohess N, Whitelaw A, Muller O, Zemanay W, Little F, Azevedo V, Simpson J, Boehme CC, Nicol MP. Impact of Xpert MTB/RIF implementation for TB diagnosis in a high TB and HIV prevalence primary care clinic in South Africa: a pragmatic randomised trial. PLoS Medicine (2014) 11(11):e1001760.
(highlighted on the PLoS Medicine website)

Cox HS, Furin JJ, Mitnick CD, Daniels C, Cox V, Goemaere E. The need to accelerate access to new drugs for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Bull World Health Organ. 2015;93(7):491-7.

Further details of Dr. Cox's research interests and publications can be found here

 

Click here for older news items from 2011 to 2014 »

 

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