New AHRI PhD graduate Dr Paul Ogongo never dreamed he’d get this far. At the age of 14, he was forced to drop out of school for a year because his family didn’t have the money to pay his school fees. He now jokes about once being a ‘school dropout’ and looks back at this year as his greatest motivator to learn – and keep learning.

Paul recently completed his PhD in Medical Microbiology at AHRI and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, under the supervision of Dr Al Leslie. The overarching goal of his project was to advance our understanding of immune responses to TB in the human lung, with the aim of improving the development of better vaccines against TB.

Thanks to a unique collaboration between AHRI and several hospitals and surgeons in Durban, Paul was able to study biopsies of human lung tissue for his research.

“A lot of TB research in humans is done on blood, yet tuberculosis is primarily a disease of the lung. There is a strong case that the slow progress in control strategies could be, in part, because we have been studying TB in the ‘wrong place’. My work showed that T cell responses to TB in the human lung are different from those observed in blood because it involves cells that do not recirculate; tissue resident memory T cells (TRMs),” explained Paul.

Paul has now taken up a Postdoctoral position at the University of California, San Francisco, under the mentorship of Prof. Joel Ernst where he will be investigating Mycobacterium tuberculosis-specific T cells in latent TB infected individuals, and the contribution of T cells in progression to active TB disease or maintenance of latent TB.

“What has really encouraged me along the way is that I have come to appreciate the devastation of tuberculosis in the population. The conviction that my contribution to science is part of the bigger picture of alleviating the TB burden gives me renewed desire to keep researching,” said Paul.