The Wellcome Trust has awarded Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) research associate Dr Omolara Baiyegunhi a prestigious early-career award. The $745,272 in funding will support Omolara’s cutting-edge HIV cure research for the next five years.

HIV reservoirs are the greatest barrier to HIV cure in people living with HIV and taking antiretroviral therapy (ART). Omolara’s project, titled ‘Viral and metabolic determinants of HIV-1 reservoir establishment and persistence in ART treated individuals’, aims to identify the mechanisms that determine the size of the HIV reservoir in this population.

She will use sophisticated techniques like liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry and Luminex, among others, to measure small molecules present within patient plasma samples. The overall goal of the project is to design a new intervention to eradicate HIV reservoirs and, ultimately, achieve an HIV cure.

All the research will be done at AHRI in Durban, South Africa. AHRI’s director of basic and translational science, Prof Thumbi Ndung’u, is Omolara’s mentor for this project, in collaboration with other researchers in the Netherlands and in the United States.

Wellcome early-career awards are highly competitive. The award funds projects which are bold, creative, and of excellent quality. The expectation is that the work should deliver shifts in understanding that could improve human life, health, and wellbeing and that by the end of the award, the early-career researcher will be ready to lead their own independent research programme.

“I am proud to have received this award,” said Omolara. “I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity and space to do this important work for the next five years, while developing my own path towards research independence.”