Zaza Ndhlovu

Dr Zaza Ndhlovu works on cellular immune responses to HIV-1, with the ultimate goal of finding a phenotypic target for an HIV vaccine. His research programme includes studies geared towards understanding initial events that contribute to immune dysfunction and subsequent disease progression. He uses excisional lymph node samples from acute and chronic HIV infected patients to interrogate how brief exposure to HIV influences induction and durability of protective immune responses.

Zaza received his PhD in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology from Johns Hopkins University, and did his postdoctoral training at Harvard University. During this time, he studied CD8+ T cell responses in a special group of individuals capable of spontaneous HIV suppression in the absence of antiretroviral therapy – called ‘elite controllers’. He made significant discoveries about key features of HIV-specific CD8+ T cell subsets that are able to inhibit viral replication and drive immune escape in elite controllers.

After securing a Faculty position at Harvard University, he decided to relocate his research program to South Africa. “I reasoned that incidence rates of close to 10% per year in KwaZulu-Natal would enable me to address unique aspects of the host immune response to HIV that could not be undertaken where I had trained, while at the same time I could contribute to scientific capacity building needed to meet current and future African medical challenges,” Zaza said. The move brought him to the epicenter of the HIV epidemic and has allowed him access to well pedigreed acute infection samples.

Zaza’s academic appointments include member of Faculty at AHRI, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Adjunct Faculty at University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is also an HHMI International Research Scholar.

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Zaza Ndhlovu

Ndhlovu Group

The Ndhlovu Group focuses on understanding how immune regulation in the lymph node microenvironment affects HIV-1 persistence in ART treated aviremic patients, with the goal of gaining new insights that can inform novel HIV cure strategies.

Meet the Team

Tiza Ng’uni - Ndhlovu Group

Tiza Ng’uni

Postdoctoral fellow

Dr Tiza Lucy Ng’uni holds a PhD in cancer and antimicrobial research from the University of the Western Cape. She later relocated to Durban to join the Ndhlovu lab where she is currently the vaccine studies group lead and oversees projects focused on HIV and Covid-19 vaccine research. Tiza is also coordinating an HLA project aimed at characterising HLA allele and haplotype frequencies in eastern and southern Africa. The data generated on HLA usage in the region will serve as an important resource for researchers developing new vaccines. Through her work, she hopes to contribute to the quest for an HIV vaccine.

Andrea Papadopoulos - Ndhlovu Group

Andrea Papadopoulos

Postdoctoral fellow

Dr Andrea Papadopoulos is a dynamic molecular biologist. She holds a PhD from Wits University, working on the M. tuberculosis cell wall. She pivoted into HIV T cell immunology for her postdoc in the Ndhlovu lab, where she channels her molecular background into spatial and single cell omics to study the HIV reservoir immune microenvironment in human tissue, piloting the first spatial omics platform in Africa. She also co-supervises a masters student, phenotyping T cell responses to commercial Covid-19 vaccines.

Alabi Banjoko - Ndhlovu Group

Alabi Banjoko

Postdoctoral fellow

Dr Alabi Waheed Banjoko holds a PhD from the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. His thesis focused on developing a hybrid multi-objective optimisation method using machine learning techniques to ensure efficient non-clinical identification of biomarker genes which are statistically correlated with the respective groups of Messenger Ribonucleic Acid (mRNA) tissue samples and make biological sense for easy interpretation. He is currently working on generating and analysing curated quality high level resolution Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) data.

Merantha Moodley - Ndhlovu Group

Merantha Moodley

Postdoctoral fellow

Dr Merantha Moodley holds a PhD from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her project investigated the role of neutrophil extracellular traps and JAM-C in the pathogenesis of HIV comorbid with pre-eclampsia. Merantha’s postdoctoral research primarily focuses on the spatial localisation and quantification of HIV reservoirs in the human brain. She is also co-working on a project which aims to elucidate the role of lymph node and gut macrophages as productively infected HIV reservoirs. Merantha is the coordinator of the AHRI tissue studies/cohort at the Ndhlovu lab.

Nitalia Naidoo - Ndhlovu Group

Nitalia Naidoo

Postdoctoral fellow

Dr Nitalia Naidoo holds a PhD from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She investigated gene polymorphisms and placental immunoexpression of neuropilin-1 in HIV-infected, preeclamptic African women. The aim was to understand the impact of this comorbidity and genetic susceptibility. Currently, she’s involved in a multi-country research project in Africa which involves high-throughput HLA genotyping using next-generation sequencing to map HLA genes from diverse ethnic groups. It also focusses on identifying immunodominant responses targeting highly networked HIV epitopes and associated HLA alleles, providing new insights into disease progression via natural infection and vaccination strategies.

Thandeka Nkosi  - Ndhlovu Group

Thandeka Nkosi

PhD student

Thandeka Nkosi holds a master’s degree in medical sciences from UKZN. Her project showed that very early antiretroviral (ART) initiation is associated with a mitigated but measurable CD8 T cell response that is functionally competent and durable. She also previously worked as a research assistant at the HIV Pathogenesis Programme. Thandeka’s PhD seeks to utilise spatial omics technologies and 3D- models to characterise microenvironments in tissue reservoirs of HIV-Infected individuals on ART and develop strategies for reservoir eradication.

Mali Mlaba - Ndhlovu Group

Mali Mlaba

Master's student

Mali Khethukuthula Mlaba holds an honour's degree in medical science from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. His background includes human physiology, immunology and microbiology. His current work focusses on assessing the functions of natural killer cells in the lymph nodes during HIV persistence using immunofluorescent staining and flow cytometry.

Thando Mchunu - Ndhlovu Group

Thando Mchunu

Master's student

Siphelele Nothando Mchunu holds an honours in microbiology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her project focused on the synthesis of selenium nanoparticles and their antimicrobial properties. After completing her degree, she worked in a pathology lab. Currently, she is pursuing her master's in Immunology at the HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP) and AHRI.

Uvedhna Padia - Ndhlovu Group

Uvedhna Padia

Master's student

Uvedhna Padia completed her undergraduate and honours degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her honours project focused on screening the anticancer activity of various South African seaweed species. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in virology, focussing on the development of a fluorescence-based killing assay to measure CD8+ T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2. Uvedhna is also actively involved in managing the Ndhlovu lab’s social media and public engagement platforms.

Bongiwe Mahlobo  - Ndhlovu Group

Bongiwe Mahlobo

CESORA programme manager

Dr Bongiwe Mahlobo holds a PhD in HIV immunology. Her doctoral research delved into the complex realm of HIV and sought to gain insights into the role of regulatory CD4+ T cells in the lymphoid tissues of individuals with early treated HIV-1 infection. As the CESORA programme manager, Bongiwe is responsible for the day-to-day running of the centre.

Namani Ngema - Ndhlovu Group

Namani Ngema

Laboratory technologist

Dr Namani Ngema holds a master’s from the University of Zululand and a PhD from UKZN. Her PhD research focused on the phenotype, location, and transcriptional profile of CD8+T cells in lymphoid tissues. Her project also explored the frequency, phenotype and functional characteristics of CTLs in paired blood and LN samples in cohorts of PLWH and how these characteristics are modulated during ART.

Sifundo Nxele  - Ndhlovu Group

Sifundo Nxele

Research technician

Sifundo Nxele holds a masters degree in medical sciences from UKZN. His project was focused on the medicinal plant Clausena Anista and its ability to alleviate hyperglycemia-induced oxidative and nitrosative stress in HepG2 cells. He is a qualified independent medical scientist in anatomical pathology, having received his training at the National Health Laboratory Services. He is currently a research technician involved in the investigation of lymphoid tissue infected with HIV.

Trevor Khaba - Ndhlovu Group

Trevor Khaba

Research technician

Trevor Khaba holds the position of senior research technician at the HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP), where he assumes responsibility for overseeing the histology laboratory. In this role, his primary responsibilities encompass various technical procedures such as microtomy, Immunohistochemical staining (IHC), in situ hybridisation staining (ISH), GeoMx Spatial Omics, and fluorescence imaging and analysis. The focal point of Trevor's research revolves around investigating the immunology of lymphoid tissue infected with HIV-1.

Sibongiseni Msipa  - Ndhlovu Group

Sibongiseni Msipa

Research intern

Sibongiseni Msipa earned a bachelor of science in biotechnology from the University of the Western Cape and a bachelor of medical science (Hons) in bioinformatics from the University of Cape Town. During her honours project, she focused on creating a machine learning algorithm designed to predict how cancer cells respond to small molecule inhibitors. Currently, Sibongiseni is serving as a bioinformatics intern in the Ndhlovu lab. In this role, she collaborates with researchers and biostatisticians to perform data analysis on studies conducted in the lab.

Selected Recent Publications

Laher, F., Ranasinghe, S., Porichis, F., Mewalal, N., Pretorius, K., Ismail, N., … Ndhlovu, Z. M. (2017).. HIV Controllers Exhibit Enhanced Frequencies of Major Histocompatibility Complex Class II Tetramer(+) Gag-Specific CD4(+) T Cells in Chronic Clade C HIV-1 Infection.. Journal of Virology, 91(7), e02477-16.

Ndhlovu, Z., Kamya, P., Mewalal, N., Kløverpris, H. N., Nkosi, T., Pretorius, K., … Walker, B. D. (2015). Magnitude and kinetics of CD8+ T cell activation during hyperacute HIV infection impacts viral set point. Immunity, 43(3), 591–604.

Ndhlovu, Z. M., Chibnik, L. B., Proudfoot, J., Vine, S., McMullen, A., Cesa, K., … Kaufmann, D. E. (2013) . High-dimensional immunomonitoring models of HIV-1–specific CD8 T-cell responses accurately identify subjects achieving spontaneous viral control. . Blood, 121(5), 801–811. .

Chen, H., Ndhlovu, Z. M., Liu, D., Porter, L. C., Fang, J. W., Darko, S., … Walker, B. D. (2012). T cell receptor clonotypes modulate the protective effect of HLA class I alleles in HIV-1 infection.. Nature Immunology, 13(7), 691–700. .

Ndhlovu, Z. M., Oelke, M., Schneck, J. P., & Griffin, D. E. (2010). Dynamic regulation of functionally distinct virus-specific T cells. . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(8), 3669–3674..