Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) is proud to announce that AHRI’s director for basic and translational science, Prof Thumbi Ndung’u, has been awarded the prestigious 2023 ‘KT Jeang Retrovirology Prize’ for his ‘outstanding work on HIV in Africa’.

Established in 2005, the prize is awarded annually by the prize committee to a mid-career scientist for making an exceptional contribution to the retrovirology field.

Prof Ndung’u’s work has been pivotal in unravelling the complexities of HIV, including the virus’ genetic diversity, transmission dynamics, and the mechanisms of viral persistence within the human body. He has also delved into the intricacies of host-virus interactions, shedding light on the immune responses that influence disease progression and susceptibility to HIV.

His research concentrates on less-studied groups and virus types in areas with limited resources and a high HIV/Aids burden. This is where understanding how the immune system reacts to the virus and its genetic variations will have the most significant impact on efforts like vaccine development. His earlier work addressed the lack of biological tools for studying HIV-1 subtype C, the common subtype in southern Africa and globally. The tools he created have facilitated in vitro studies of HIV-1 subtype C biology and vaccine development research. They are deposited in the NIH Aids reagent programme, and remain available to researchers.

His research programme at Africa Health Research Institute is focussed on understanding how HIV and TB persist and replicate in the face of a hostile host immune system – with the goal of aiding the design of a safe, affordable, and effective HIV-1 vaccine or effective immune-based therapies.

Prof Ndung’u also actively participates in the training of graduate and postdoctoral researchers and has a special interest in capacity building for biomedical research in Africa. In addition to his AHRI appointment, he is a professor of infectious diseases in the Division of Infection and Immunity at University College London. He is also a University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) professor and Victor Daitz Chair in HIV/TB Research, associate member of the Ragon Institute, adjunct professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, the scientific director at UKZN’s HIV Pathogenesis Programme, and the programme director for the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE), an African-led research and capacity building consortium working in 8 African countries.

“I am humbled to accept the 2023 KT Jeang Retrovirology Prize. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important scientific endeavor and look forward to continuing to advance our understanding of these pathogens. Thank you to the Retrovirology community for this honour,” said Prof Ndung’u. Ndung’u is also this year’s recipient of the Leadership Award in Public Health Practice from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.