K-RITH postdoctoral research fellow Dirk Lamprecht, PhD student Akeem Ngomu and Masters students Kashmeel Maharaj and Chanelle McArthur all won accolades at the recent UKZN College of Health Sciences Research Symposium.

Held at the K-RITH Tower Building on 10 and 11 September, the symposium featured a total of 131 presentations (46 posters and 85 orals). Nine K-RITH students and postdoctoral researchers participated.

Lamprecht, who is a member of the Steyn Lab at K-RITH, got first prize in the Staff: Oral category. He presented some of the research the lab has been doing in combination targeting of the mycobacterial electron transport chain. Lamprecht says it’s hoped their findings could ultimately pave the way for the development of new anti-tuberculosis (TB) drug combinations that would be as effective on multi drug-resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB as they are on drug susceptible TB. This could also potentially significantly shorten the time patients need to take their TB medication for.

Akeem Ngomu, from the Ndung’u lab, took first prize in the PhD: Oral category. He presented research on Cryptococcosis-associated immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (C-IRIS). C-IRIS is a clinical condition experienced by a subset of HIV positive people with Cryptococcal meningitis who initiate combination antiretroviral treatment and is extremely difficult to manage. In his talk, Akeem tried to answer a question about whether there’s something specific about the immune system prior to treatment that may predict those who will develop C-IRIS. He specifically looked at whether plasma and cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers could predict patients at risk for C-IRIS.

Chanelle McArthur, a Masters student in K-RITH’s Balagadde lab, presented on a microfluidic device that the bioengineering lab has developed. She won second place in the Masters Poster category for her presentation on the chip, which is able to capture and concentrate HIV-1 particles. Currently, HIV diagnosis and monitoring is resource intensive and it requires a high level of expertise to perform tests and interpret data. Microfluidics offers a more cost effective option, is open to less human error and doesn’t require expertise to operate the system – once it’s set up.

Pym Lab Masters student and lab technologist, Kashmeel Maharaj, took third place in the Masters Poster category for his presentation on his research in identifying the genetic mutations which cause drug resistance to pyrazinamide. Pyrazinamide is a key drug in the TB treatment regimen, and is crucial in treating MDR and XDR-TB. Because of this, early detection of drug resistance is essential in order to improve treatment regimens for patients. Identifying all the gene mutations which confer resistance to pyrazinamide would ultimately allow for a faster, genetic-based test for drug resistance.