International Research Center on HIV/TB Co-Infection To be Created in South Africa

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Here’s a blog dispatch from the Center’s Christine Lubinski:

In Washington today, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa announced a groundbreaking partnership to establish an international research center on HIV/TB co-infection. The initiative will also focus on training a new generation of scientists in Africa.

The creation of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH), with a commitment from HHMI of $60 million over the next decade, was announced at simultaneous events in Washington, D.C., and Durban, South Africa. The institute will be located on the campus of the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in Durban in a six-story facility that will include two floors of high-level biosafety (BSL-3) laboratories equipped for TB research.

This year, HHMI will provide $3 million in grant funding and support construction of temporary laboratory facilities to support the TB research program. Construction of the new facility is expected to begin in late September.

Two leading American investigators with expertise in TB and HIV research will participate in the program—William R. Jacobs Jr. of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Bruce D. Walker of Harvard University. University of KwaZulu-Natal scientists helping to direct and plan K-RITH are A. Willem Sturm, a TB researcher and dean of the Mandela School of Medicine and Salim S. Abdool Karim, the university’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research).

During the Washington briefing, Dr. Sturm highlighted the key areas of research focus for the Institute—development of a rapid test with the capacity to determine resistance by category; characterization of the genotypic and phenotypic characteristics of drug resistant strains of TB (both MDR and XDR); analysis of the complex immune response to TB among persons with HIV; and study of the nature and frequency of recurrent TB in HIV infected individuals.

Dr. Sturm will serve as the interim director of K-RITH. HHMI and the Univ. of KwaZulu-Natal will jointly recruit a permanent director for K-RITH. Barry Bloom, well-known TB researcher and former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, will chair the search committee.

HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are the first and third causes of mortality respectively in South Africa. South Africa has more cases of HIV/AIDS than any other country in the world, and the fourth highest per capita rate of tuberculosis in the world. Of the 5.4 million HIV-infected persons in the country, 250,000 also develop active TB each year, accounting for about one-third of all cases of HIV/TB co-infection worldwide.

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