HIV and STI
The Centre for HIV & Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) aims to be a resource of knowledge and expertise in HIV and other regionally relevant STIs to the South African Government, to SADC countries and to the African continent at large, in order to assist in the planning of policies and programmes related to the control and effective management of HIV/STIs. The Centre also aims to be a place of academic excellence regarding both research and teaching/training. The Centre has a strong track record in the research disciplines of HIV virology, HIV immunology, HIV/STI epidemiology, HIV/STI diagnostics and HIV-STI interactions, as well as in successful supervision of MSc and PhD students.
The Centre for HIV & STIs was recently created by the amalgamation of five separate NICD sections: the HIV Research section (Head: Professor Lynn Morris) and Cell Biology section (Head: Professor Caroline Tiemessen) of the former AIDS Virus Research Unit, the HIV Molecular and Serology section of the former Specialized Molecular Diagnostics Unit (Head: Professor Adrian Puren), the STI Reference section former STI Reference Centre (Head:Dr Ranmini Kularatne) and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) section which contains the,World Health Organization-linked HPV LabNet Laboratory (Head: Professor Anna-Lise Williamson). The first four sections are based on NICD’s Sandringham campus and the last section is based at the University of Cape Town.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)
Head: Dr Ranmini Kularatne
The STI section is responsible for providing intelligence on the aetiology of major STI syndromes, as well as antimicrobial resistance data related to gonococcal infections. Findings are communicated annually to the national and relevant provincial health departments in South Africa as well as to those working in public health and directly with STI patients. The STI Reference section also undertakes teaching and training activities, assisting with training of medical scientists, doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff. The STI section undertakes operational research relevant to public health and to that end, it has established several international links with STI researchers overseas.
Head: Prof Lynn Morris
The Laboratory conducts research projects primarily on the virology and immunology of HIV. It also serves important functions for drug resistance surveillance for the National Department of Health as well as validated end point assays for HIV vaccine trials. Researchers in this lab were involved in important trials including the ground breaking CAPRISA 004 study which showed that 1% tenofovir gel could prevent HIV infenction by 39%. Samples from a phase I clinical trial of the SAAVI vaccines were tested at the laboratory for immunogenicity. More recently in 2012, staff were pivotal in the discovery that a weakness exists in the human immunodeficiency virus that enables certain people to produce potent antibodies which are able to kill up to 88% of strains of the virus from around the world.
The study, published in Nature in 2012, was undertaken by the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) consortium, which involves scientists from the NICD, and other universities in South Africa and the USA.
Head: Prof Caroline Tiemessen
The Laboratory’s has focused particularly on studies of maternal-infant HIV-1 transmission as a model for understanding protective immunity to HIV-1. Studying the immune responses and other characteristics of both mothers and their infants allows the team to address questions of protective immunity of disease progression in the HIV-1 infected mothers, and of acute infection in infants who become infected. Key findings using this model have included the discovery of two innate immune correlates of protective immunity to HIV-1: (i) elevated production of the chemokine CCL3/MIP-1 and higher gene copy number of CCL3L, and (ii) unusual HIV-peptide specific natural killer ) cells. Innate immune responses are first to act upon initial encounter with HIV-1 and again on subsequent re-encounters; these early events have to be evaded by HIV-1 to successfully establish infection in the host. Understanding mechanisms of defence employed by the host to prevent the establishment of infection with HIV-1, and to protect the host from accelerated disease progression when already infected, will provide the basis for designing effective and better targeted interventions of protection.
HIV Molecular and Serology
Head: Prof Adrian Puren
The HIV molecular sub-section is involved with clinical diagnostics, research, surveillance and training. Primary diagnostics tests include CD4 counts, HIV DNA PCR for early infant diagnosis, HIV viral load monitoring, and specialised HIV tests. The serology laboratory coordinates the HIV prevelance testing for the annual Department of Health antenatal survey and also has completed HIV incidence on samples for recent years, using the BED capture ELISA. In addition, the laboratory has introduced a limiting antigen avidity index assay to determine whether this assay alone or in combination as part of an algorithm will improve incidence estimates. The serology laboratory will apply this approach to a microbicide study and the Human Sciences Research Council’s general population HIV prevelance and incidence study.