The Harvard Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) has awarded two early-career Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) scientists funding to support their groundbreaking HIV/Aids research.

AHRI research associate Dr Kavidha Reddy and postdoctoral fellow Dr Smart Mabweazara were awarded prestigious CFAR Development Awards of US$ 129,598 and US$ 119,999 respectively.

Dr Kavidha Reddy’s work focuses on virus/host interactions, and viral diversity and its clinical relevance. She is currently investigating HIV-1 subtype C viral reservoir characteristics and dynamics. She explains that HIV can ‘hide’ in different cells in the body and re-activate itself if treatment is stopped. Identifying HIV’s hiding places (also called HIV reservoirs) is therefore important for developing a cure for HIV.

Her CFAR-funded study, titled ‘The role of myeloid cell populations in HIV-1 reservoir establishment in acute-treated individuals’, aims to describe the cell types that potentially contribute to the establishment of the HIV reservoir during early infection – and proposes that a better understanding of the contribution of myeloid cells to the HIV reservoir could inform the design of selective therapeutic targeting for reservoir eradication.

“Even though we have antiretroviral therapy (ART) which can effectively control HIV and help people live better lives, it does not cure HIV,” she said. “It is for this reason that we continue to advocate for ART while we seek for solutions that will hopefully lead us to a vaccine or cure.”

“I am delighted to receive this grant,” she added. “It will provide invaluable support and career development opportunities and will hopefully positively impact the field of HIV reservoir and cure research.”

Dr Smart Mabweazara’s research focuses on developing and evaluating physical activity interventions for the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases among people living with HIV. He says that although ART has led to a massive decrease in Aids-related deaths, there are still areas of concern with some of the adverse effects resulting from the long-term use of ART.

Of particular concern is the effect of first-line integrase strand transfer inhibitor (INSTI)-based ART regimens on weight. His CFAR-funded research looks into cardiometabolic disease, which seems to worsen from the use of the INSTI-based ART regimens. The study, titled ‘Design and pilot evaluation of a physical activity intervention for obese people living with HIV on dolutegravir-based ART in rural South Africa’ is a formative study which explores the physical activity perceptions, experiences, barriers, facilitators and preferences of obese people living with HIV on dolutegravir-based medication in rural South Africa, with a view to then develop and test the feasibility of an intervention to promote physical activity among this population.

“This research will respond to the gap in our knowledge about feasible and acceptable interventions to promote physical activity and counteract obesity and cardiometabolic disease among people with HIV in a rural, South African context,” said Smart.

To further support his study, Smart has also received an AHRI internal grant which will enable work to create awareness of the benefits of physical activity for people with HIV and obesity on dolutegravir-based ART in AHRI’s rural research setting.

“I am extremely grateful for this grant,” he added. “It will provide me with the necessary mentorship, protected time, and research experience to help me accomplish my goals of converting to research independence.”

Story by Julia Ndlazi