U.S., South African Scientists Launch $60M HIV/TB Research Initiative
Scientists from the U.S. Howard Hughes Medical Institute and South Africa's University of KwaZulu Natal on Wednesday announced the launch of a $60 million, 10-year initiative to establish a new research facility to examine the associations between HIV and tuberculosis, the Boston Globe reports. According to the Globe, HHMI will finance the project. About $20 million of the funding will be directed toward establishing a research institute on the Durban campus of UKZN's Nelson Mandela Medical School, which will include two floors of high-level biosafety laboratories. The center will use the additional $40 million for research, training and related programs over a 10-year period (Smith, Boston Globe, 3/20). Thomas Cech, HHMI president, said the partnership "reflects a shared view that direct and substantial investment in basic, clinical and translational research in the heart of the pandemics of HIV and TB will yield significant discoveries that will alleviate the human suffering caused by these diseases." According to South Africa's Business Day, HHMI and UKZN have formed a recruitment committee to jointly appoint a permanent director for the center (Blaine, Business Day, 3/20).
According to the Globe, scientists involved with the project will study the increasing incidence of HIV/TB coinfection and examine outbreaks of extensively drug-resistant TB among HIV-positive people. Salim Abdool Karim, director of the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa, said the researchers also will study the causes of recurrent TB and the spread of TB among HIV-positive people in health center waiting rooms. In addition, the scientists will study the challenges of diagnosing TB among HIV-positive people and analyze genetic factors that could contribute to drug resistance. Researchers also will study HIV immunology and examine the role HIV plays in the development of aggressive TB. According to the Globe, the project also aims to integrate patient treatment at three hospitals in the province and provide training for researchers and clinical staff (Boston Globe, 3/20).
Bruce Walker, infectious disease specialist and director of the Ragon Institute said, "One of the most exciting parts of this whole project is the ability to conduct research at the heart of these two epidemics." He added that the HIV/TB research will "really be focused on the local problems that need to be solved." Thumbi Ndung'u, associate professor at UKZN, added that the institute will provide a "tremendous opportunity" for African researchers (De Capua, VOA News, 3/19). According to Ndung'u, the new center "will make it possible for African scientists to be trained on the African continent, to engage with the communities, which is key to beating the HIV and TB epidemics" (AFP/Google.com, 3/19). Walker said the institute also aims to integrate HIV and TB services "both at the clinical level and at the research level, so that we have under the same roof people that are trying to deal with this co-epidemic." He added that although the research primarily will focus on HIV and TB, it could have "wide-ranging implications" for improving other aspects of public health in South Africa (VOA News, 3/19).