Friday, August 12 2022

In a bold move to improve the health of people locally and globally, two KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) research giants are joining forces to form a groundbreaking new interdisciplinary institute to fight tuberculosis (TB), HIV and related diseases.

The new organization, the Africa Health Research Institute, is located at the heart of the co-epidemic of tuberculosis and HIV in South Africa. It combines the renowned African Center for Population Health’s detailed demographic data from over 100,000 participants, with the basic science, experimental medicine and world-class laboratory facilities of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute on tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH).

The new venture is made possible by R1.2 billion grants from the Wellcome Trust and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), along with UCL (University College London) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) as important academic partners.

The African Health Research Institute’s Interdisciplinary Institute for Health Research “from the population to the lab – and back to the population” approach to tackling the co-epidemic of TB and HIV comes at a critical time. Despite advances in antiretroviral therapy and talk of ‘the end of AIDS’, HIV and HIV-related tuberculosis remain devastating diseases, with tuberculosis being one of the leading causes of death in South Africa. KZN province has the highest HIV burden, while tuberculosis is responsible for more than 14% of all deaths in KZN. The emergence of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis and HIV presents a major public health crisis.

The African Institute for Health Research is committed to working towards the elimination of HIV and TB. To achieve this, the institute will bring together leading researchers from different fields, use cutting-edge science to improve people’s health and help train the next generation of African scientists.

Wellcome Trust and HHMI are two of the biggest funders of biomedical research and the establishment of the African Health Research Institute represents the first time these organizations have joined together in the field of global health. The complementary strengths of our partner institutions allow for a broader scope of interdisciplinary and translational research relevant both locally and internationally and underpinned by strong political commitment.

Professor Deenan Pillay, Director of the African Center for Population Health and new Director of the African Institute for Health Research, said: “KwaZulu-Natal is at the center of the twin epidemics of HIV and TB. It is the only place in the world where the marriage of disciplines can have the maximum impact on new HIV infections and TB transmission. We will link clinical and laboratory studies with social sciences, health systems research health and population studies to make fundamental discoveries about these deadly diseases, as well as to demonstrate how best to reduce morbidity and mortality.

Current areas of research include:

  • Longest population-based HIV treatment as prevention (TasP) trial in Africa
  • An innovative research project on the biology of human lung granuloma, involving close collaboration with surgeons performing lung resections at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in Durban and King Dinuzulu Hospital Complex
  • Application of genomics to better understand anti-TB drug resistance

Laboratory facilities at the K-RITH Tower building in Durban include state-of-the-art Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) laboratories, which enable scientists to work safely with dangerous airborne diseases such as tuberculosis. We are also home to Africa’s only microfluidic chip manufacturing foundry, where scientists are working to develop low-cost, sample-in-answer-out disease diagnostic devices to combat the HIV and TB epidemics.

Research at the Africa Health Research Institute is truly collaborative: we work with over 60 academic and clinical institutions in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa and around the world.

Professor David Lomas, Vice-Rector (Health) at UCL, said: “UCL takes a collaborative approach to tackling major global challenges and forging successful partnerships is a key priority and strength of the Faculty of Science. life and medical sciences. Our commitment to the African Institute for Health Research builds on our role as one of the world’s leading centers for biomedical research. The African Institute for Health Research will become an important global partner for UCL, in line with our global engagement strategy, and will strengthen the translation of our research into new therapies that address the HIV/TB co-epidemic and benefit human health.

Professor Mike Turner, Acting Scientific Director of the Wellcome Trust and Head of Infection Biology, said: “The investment of Wellcome and others in health research in South Africa has undoubtedly improved the lives of people living with HIV over the past 15 years. But growing resistance to HIV and TB treatment and stubbornly high infection rates mean we need to redouble our efforts if we are to sustain our hard-won progress.

“Long-standing threats such as tuberculosis, HIV and, increasingly, non-communicable diseases, will only be solved with a strong research base combining different approaches. The individuals and teams of the African Institute for Health Research will play a leading role in developing and conducting world-class, locally-driven and relevant research that improves human health. Ultimately, solutions to health crises will be driven by African scientists and, increasingly, by African investments.

HHMI President Robert Tjian said, “We believe this new research center is well positioned to make the critical scientific advances needed to improve our understanding and advance treatment for these two deadly infectious diseases. The unification of these institutes makes possible a range of research previously unimaginable by the Africa Center or K-RITH separately.

UKZN spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said: “Unification is a major achievement. It maximizes opportunities to impact world-leading research on the twin epidemics of HIV and TB.


About the Wellcome Trust

Wellcome exists to improve everyone’s health by helping great ideas thrive. We are a global, politically and financially independent charitable foundation. We support scientists and researchers, tackle big issues, fuel imaginations and spark debate.

About the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays an important role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, spread across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary enterprise that reflects the excitement of real research. HHMI’s corporate headquarters is located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC

About UCL (University College London)

UCL was founded in 1826. We were the first English university created after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those who had previously been excluded from it and the first to provide a systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the best universities in the world, as evidenced by our performance in various international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 35,000 students from 150 countries and over 11,000 staff. Our annual revenue is over £1 billion.

The UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences brings together four UCL faculties (Brain Sciences, Life Sciences, Medical Sciences and Population Health Sciences) to create one of the largest and most prestigious groupings of scholars in biomedical, life and population health sciences. According to the Research Excellence Framework 2014, we are the strongest medical research cluster in the UK and have the most world leading research covering medicine and life sciences.

About the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)

UKZN is recognized as one of South Africa’s top research-intensive universities. It is one of the largest universities in sub-Saharan Africa, with five campuses in the two cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and health promotion is one of UKZN’s main areas of research. The University is committed and its resources to the common good of society.

Note: As of July 2016, K-RITH is now the African Health Research Institute (AHRI).


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