K-RITH’s Dr Henrik Kløverpris has been awarded a prestigious five-year Sir Henry Dale Fellowship to support his research into the immune system’s response to HIV infection.

The fellowship is jointly funded by the Royal Society and Wellcome Trust. It’s targeted at postdoctoral researchers who aim to become independent scientists leading their own groups.

Kløverpris moved from Oxford University in 2013 to take up a postdoctoral fellowship in K-RITH’s Leslie Lab, where he has been investigating Innate Lymphoid Cells’ (ILCs) response to HIV infection. ILCs are a recently identified class of immune cells which have an important role in the body’s reaction to infection and in maintaining immune system balance. The cells are vital to tissue repair and help regulate homeostasis and inflammation. In a paper published in the journal Immunity earlier this year, Kløverpris shows that ILCs are lost from the blood immediately following HIV infection. What is still not known is what impact this has on pathology and disease progression. The Sir Henry Dale Fellowship will enable him to build on this initial work over the next five years. Specifically, he will investigate the function of ILCs in the gut of HIV infected people at different stages of disease. Much like chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, in acute HIV infection the gut barrier is broken down. Kløverpris hypothesises that ILCs, or more specifically defective or depleted ILCs, may be a crucial link between HIV infection, lymphoid tissue breakdown, and persistent immune dysfunction.

Kløverpris’ work relies on unique samples of surgically removed tissue, donated by patients at Durban’s Chief Albert Luthuli Central Hospital. In collaboration with surgeons at the hospital, he uses tissue from gut biopsies, tonsils and adenoid lymph nodes for his research. The samples are processed at K-RITH, and state of the art flow cytometry and cell sorting technologies are used to profile and analyse the cells. Kløverpris hopes to employ a postdoctoral fellow to assist him with the project, and plans to maintain his close working relationship with groups from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard.

He says he is excited to begin the next stage in his research career: “This is an excellent opportunity to pursue this novel field of HIV research at the site of disease while continuing the establishment of an independent research profile.”