The Max Planck Society has extended Africa Health Research Institute’s Professor Thumbi Ndung’u and Dr Alex Sigal’s Research Group Leader fellowships for a further two years. 

The appointment of Max Planck Research Group Leaders is subject to a rigorous selection procedure. They are appointed by the President of the Max Planck Society and have an independent status within the various Max Planck Institutes. Ndung’u and Sigal are Group Leaders within the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, but are based at AHRI.  This is the second competitive renewal of the initial five-year contract for both AHRI Faculty Members.

Dr Sigal’s core research direction is investigating reservoir mechanisms in HIV and TB, including the switch between quiescence and active infection in TB, and in the cellular source of the reservoir in HIV. His group at AHRI works on reservoirs of infection in HIV and TB via experiments in the lab, computational approaches, and samples from cohorts of infected individuals uniquely available at the institute.

“The renewal of this fellowship is something I’m very proud of. It shows that the Max Planck Society recognises and supports the important research we do,” said Dr Sigal.

Professor Ndung’u’s research is centred on understanding antiviral immune mechanisms and viral adaptation to immune pressure, to inform rational HIV-1 vaccine development and immune-based therapies particularly for subtype C, the most prevalent strain in Southern African and globally. His recent work has focused on identifying acute infections, initiating immediate antiretroviral therapy and characterisation of long-term clinical, immunological and virological outcomes in these individuals who are now candidates for interventions with immune-based curative research strategies. This work may lead to an effective HIV vaccine or immune-based cure or remission, as well as provide mechanistic insights for HIV persistence despite antiretroviral therapy.

“Max Planck is one of the world’s most prestigious funders of science and being appointed once again by the Institute is an honour,” said Prof Ndung’u.

“The quality of Alex and Thumbi’s science is reflected in this continuation of their research funding. Congratulations to both. From an institutional perspective this also serves to deepen our relationship with Max Planck,” said AHRI Director, Prof Deenan Pillay.