Emily Wong

Dr Emily Wong is an Infectious Disease specialist and translational immunologist whose work focuses on understanding how HIV and other states of inflammation and immunomodulation impact the human immune response to tuberculosis.  Emily specialises in establishing unique human cohorts to address fundamental questions about human infectious immunology. In collaboration with the Department of Pulmonology at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital, Emily established Phefumula, a research bronchoscopy cohort that allows comparative study of immune cells from the surface of the lung and the peripheral blood of people with well-defined states of HIV and TB. She is one of the co-Primary Investigators of Vukuzazi, a population-based health ‘omics study.  Designed to investigate genetic and acquired drivers of health and disease, Vukuzazi will define individual phenotypes using community-based health screening for HIV, TB and non-communicable diseases and collect biosamples to support genomic and transcriptomic study in a population of 30 000 people in the uMkhanyakude district of KwaZulu-Natal.

Emily’s clinical and research interests have focused on the intersections of the HIV and TB epidemics in South Africa since she first worked in Durban in 2003. She witnessed the profound toll of the HIV-epidemic in KZN and was inspired by health care workers and activists who fought to make antiretroviral therapy available in the public sector. To try to better understand the causes of HIV-related mortality after ARV rollout, Emily worked with colleagues in Johannesburg to conduct a post-mortem needle autopsy study to determine the causes of death of patients dying in the first months of antiretroviral therapy; this work revealed very high rates of disseminated tuberculosis and tuberculosis immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome. Recently, Emily’s research has focused on trying to understand the immune response to TB in the human lung through study of immune cells in the respiratory mucosa. She has particularly focused on a novel class of innate lymphocytes, Mucosal Associated Invariant T (MAIT) cells, trying to understand their role in anti-TB immunity and how HIV alters their function.

In addition to her resident faculty appointment at AHRI, Emily is a clinically active member of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, a Lecturer at Harvard Medical School and an Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Division of Infection and Immunity at University College London. When not in the lab, Emily can be found snorkelling at Shaka’s Rock, chasing a jogging stroller down the Durban beachfront or cheering madly from the side-lines of a U9 rugby match.

Get in touch with Emily via emily.wong@ahri.org

Click here for a full list of publications.

Emily Wong

Wong Group

The Wong Group’s current projects include:

  1. Study of MAIT cells, a novel class of innate-like lymphocytes with tissue-homing properties and antimicrobial activity, in the lung and peripheral circulation.
  2. Utilizing whole-compartment, cell-specific and single cell transcriptomics to understand the impact of HIV on lung immunity and latent TB infection.
  3. Investigating how genetic and acquired factors (HIV, diabetes, inflammation) impact TB susceptibility in a large population-based cohort.

Meet the Team

Bongiwe Xulu - Wong Group

Bongiwe Xulu

PhD Student

Bongiwe Xulu holds a Master’s degree in Biochemistry from UKZN. Bongiwe’s work at AHRI focuses on understanding the immune response to HIV infected individuals and how infection alters immunity to M tuberculosis. She has also been working on studying the function and location of mucosal invariant T (MAIT) cells immune response from bronchoalveolar lavage fluid compared to the peripheral blood.

Sharon Khuzwayo - Wong Group

Sharon Khuzwayo

PhD Student

Sharon has undergraduate and Master's degrees in Cellular Biology from UKZN. Her PhD project focuses on cloning and characterizing mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells in the lung and peripheral blood of tuberculosis infected individuals, with the hope of understanding how these innate-like T cells may be involved in the host’s protective anti-TB immune responses.

Thierry Basset  - Wong Group

Thierry Basset

Research Lab Technician

Thierry Basset holds an honours degree in Microbiology from Stellenbosch University. His work at AHRI focusses on trying to understand the immune response to HIV and Mycobacterium tuberculosis co-infections within the respiratory mucosa, and how Mucosal Associated Invariant T (MAIT) cells may differ to similar T-cells located elsewhere in the body.

Selected Recent Publications

Mahamed D, Boulle M, Ganga Y, Mc Arthur C, Skroch S, Oom L, Catinas O, Pillay K, Naicker M, Rampersad S, Mathonsi C, Hunter J, Wong EB, Suleman M, Sreejit G, Pym AS, Lustig G, Sigal A. (2017). Intracellular growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis after macrophage cell death leads to serial killing of host cells. Elife. Jan 28;6.

Wong EB, Ndung'u T, Kasprowicz VO. (2017). The role of mucosal-associated invariant T cells in infectious diseases.  Immunology; 150(1):45-54.

Sullivan ZS*, Wong EB*, Ndung'u TN, Kasprowicz VO, Bishai WR. (2015) . Latent TB infection increases immune activation in individuals co-infected with HIV. EBioMedicine, 2(4), 334-340.

Wong EB, Akilimali NA, Govender P, Sullivan Z, Cosgrove C, Pillay M, Lewinsohn DM, Bishai WR, Walker BD, Ndung’u T, Klenerman P, Kasprowicz VO. (2013). Low levels of peripheral CD161++CD8+ Mucosal Associated Invariant T (MAIT) cells are found in HIV and HIV/TB co-infection. PLoS ONE, 8(12):e83474.

Wong EB, Omar T, Setlhako GJ, Osih R, Feldman C, Murdoch DM, Martinson NA, Bangsberg DR, Venter WD. (2012). Causes of Death on Antiretroviral Therapy: A Post-Mortem Study from South Africa. PLoS ONE, 7(10).