Page 86 - UCT Research Report 2011

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UCT Research Report '11
“In a sense, the diversity of research projects I’m
engaged in reflects my expertise in the proteomic field,
and the unmet need to apply those technologies in
many different disease areas,” he says.
Professor Blackburn works closely with Professor
Keertan Dheda, who holds the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in
the Infection and Immunity of Poverty-Related Diseases
and is also the head of UCT’s Lung Infection and
Immunity Unit (LIIU). Professor Dheda’s activities at the
university span the LIIU, the IIDMM, and the Department
of Medicine. The LIIU’s main research interests, explains
Professor Dheda, include the development, evaluation,
and validation of field-friendly tools for the diagnosis of
tuberculosis and other pulmonary infections, the study of
the immunopathogenesis of tuberculosis using cells from
the lung, and the epidemiology, pathogenesis, and clinical
outcomes of drug-resistant TB.
An indication of the unit’s standing – and how highly its
work is valued – is the number of accolades it has been
showered with. The LIIU was recently designated a Centre
of Excellence under the WHO-associated African Network
for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI). Professor
Dheda was also the winner of the 2010 International Union
against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Scientific Award,
and was named a finalist in the innovation category of the
2011/12 National Science and Technology Forum-BHP
Billiton Awards.
“The unit’s activities converge on the broad objective of
improving the quality of life and minimising mortality of
Africans suffering from tuberculosis and other pulmonary
infections,” explains Professor Dheda.
That also illustrates how broadly its research can be
applied. As does its collaborations with other African
sites through grants from the Trials of Excellence in
Southern Africa project and TB-Neat (Tuberculosis – Novel
and emerging technologies for diagnosis), funded by
the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials
Partnership. The latter is a collaboration between several
African countries to develop and evaluate the impact of
novel TB diagnostic tools, including Gene Xpert, in Africa.
Single-minded focus to tackle TB
If one IIDMM unit could be said to straddle all three of
Professor Mizrahi’s pillars – laboratory explorations, clinical
practice and community involvement – it would be the
South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI): “the
largest research group at UCT”, she says. The work done
at SATVI, says director, Professor Willem Hanekom, has a
single-minded focus – the prevention of tuberculosis via
“In South Africa, and particularly in the Western Cape,
we have among the highest rates of TB ever recorded
in the world,” says Professor Hanekom. “More effective
vaccination would be the best strategy to intervene. To
develop new vaccination strategies, we need to learn
more about how our bodies fight TB.”
To this end, SATVI is involved in a broad range of human
immunology and genetic studies into the disease. Some of the
initiative’s international reputation, notes Professor Hanekom,
is founded on its research into what’s known as the
correlates of protection
, that is, markers that are measurable
in blood to show that an individual will be protected against
TB following the administration of a vaccine.
SATVI’s bread and butter is clinical trials of BCG (Bacillus
Calmette-Guérin) and of new TB vaccines, including early
phase trials to evaluate safety and later phase trials to test
whether the vaccines can prevent TB disease. Other projects
have focused on the epidemiology of TB in infants and
Signature theme
associated with this theme
Drug Discovery & Development Centre
The Drug Discovery & Development Centre (H3-D) is Africa’s first integrated drug discovery and development
centre. It delivers novel drug candidates for clinical development, its activities mirroring those of a start-up
biotechnology or a pharmaceutical company. The centre bridges the gap between basic and clinical studies,
equipping a new generation of African scientists with key skills for drug discovery and development. These
integrate medicinal chemistry, biology, and pharmacology, as well as drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics
(DMPK) studies as reflected in the processes of Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism and Excretion (ADME).
H3-D also focuses on beneficiation of clinically used drugs, including generic medicines. Drug beneficiation
involves the selection of the optimum form of a solid drug candidate for pharmaceutical development and
Director: Professor K. Chibale E-mail: Web: