In recognition of his innovative research investigating the fundamentals of HIV persistence in human tissues in the face of therapy, Professor Zaza Ndhlovu and his Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) team have been awarded three grants totaling $8,759,468 (R160-million) by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These awards will be used to fund three projects that will run concurrently for three years.

The first project is designed to contribute to the development of a cure for HIV. The research team will use the best-in-class imaging technology to search for where HIV hides within the human body during therapy. The knowledge gained will be used to design new HIV eradication strategies.

The second project has two aims: i) To contribute to the development of a preventive HIV vaccine that will be effective in African populations by identifying immune responses that target the vulnerable components of HIV in eastern and southern African populations. The project will overcome the biggest challenge to HIV vaccine development, i.e. tremendous diversity and rapid evolution in humans. ii) Another key deliverable of the project will be to train young African scientists in basic immunology research and to strengthen south to south collaborations.

The third project is primarily a capacity building project designed to support African led research that seeks to understand disease manifestation in specific tissue compartments.  This project will provide African researchers access to the best-in-class tissue imaging technologies used to study disease processes in human tissues at very high resolution. The project has three main deliverables: Firstly, to improve quality of  research output in tissue biology on the continent by providing access to the advanced imaging technology for free or at reduced cost; secondly, to create a community of African investigators that collectively make substantive contributions to global efforts of improving knowledge on disease processes in tissues; thirdly, to create a  Centre of Excellence for Human Tissue Imaging which will serve as a hub for innovation in tissue biology that will contribute to global efforts of developing new medical treatments and cures.

“Zaza’s research programme is an integral part of AHRI’s contribution to improving our understanding of how the human immune system fights infections and cancers in different parts of the body. The discoveries from these projects will be used to design new therapies and cures for diseases that afflict our populations,” said AHRI director for basic and translational science, Professor Thumbi Ndung’u. “Heartfelt congratulations to Zaza and his team on this achievement.”