Two of the South Africa’s most prominent biomedical research institutions are joining forces to form a new interdisciplinary institute, the Africa Health Research Institute, to fight TB, HIV and related diseases.

The Africa Health Research Institute will combine population data gathered by the Africa Centre for Population Health from 100,000 participants and the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for TB-HIV (K-RITH) basic science, experimental medicine and world-class laboratory facilities.

The new venture backed by the Wellcome Trust and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), with University College London (UCL) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), plans to connect basic research to population-level studies and clinical trials.

The Africa Health Research Institute will work towards the elimination of HIV and TB and will bring together leading researchers from different fields, use cutting-edge science to improve people’s health, and help to train the next generation of African scientists.

“KZN is at the centre of the dual epidemics of HIV and TB,” said Director of the Africa Centre for Population Health, and incoming Director of the Africa Health Research Institute, Professor Deenan Pillay.

“This is the one place in the world where the marrying of disciplines can have maximum impact on new HIV infections and TB transmission. We will link clinical and laboratory-based studies with social science, health systems research and population studies to make fundamental discoveries about these killer diseases, as well as demonstrating how best to reduce morbidity and mortality,” continued Prof Pillay.

Despite advances in antiretroviral therapy (ARVs), SA still has a huge burden of TB and HIV, with the highest HIV burden in KZN while TB is responsible for more than 14% of all deaths in the province.

Ongoing research areas include: population-based HIV Treatment as Prevention (TasP) trial in Africa; research project on human lung granuloma biology; and applying genomics to better understand TB drug resistance.

“Our commitment to the Africa Health Research Institute builds on our role as one of the world’s leading centres for biomedical research. The Africa Health Research Institute will become a significant 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,” said UCL Vice-Provost, Professor David Lomas.

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

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