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K-RITH awards grants to foster teamwork among South African TB/HIV scientists

The KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) has awarded a total of 1.7 million rand ($248,000 US) to 18 South African scientists and students to help build new tuberculosis and HIV research collaborations throughout South Africa.

These are the first Collaborative Grants awarded by K-RITH, which was founded in 2009 as a collaboration between the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). K-RITH's mission is to conduct outstanding basic science research on tuberculosis (TB) and HIV, translate the scientific findings into new tools to control TB and HIV, and expand the educational opportunities in the region. South Africa has more residents infected with HIV than any other nation and one of the highest per capita rates of TB.

"We wanted this program to foster more crosstalk between the TB and HIV research communities and to indicate our willingness to be part of that collaboration," says William R. Bishai, who became K-RITH's first full-time director in September 2010. "The high quality of the applicantsand the level of interest and enthusiasm for the projectssuggests that we are filling an unmet need for small grants to help start up new projects."

The Collaborative Grants competition was open to South Africa-based scientists (including students) outside of Durban. Applications were accepted in four areas: pilot research projects, travel, workshops, and students support. K-RITH received 66 applications, which were reviewed by top scientists and educators from South Africa, Europe, and the United States.

The grants fund a broad spectrum of projects that will start immediately, ranging from studies of naturally occurring TB in the local hyaena population to helping scientists create better computer models of the spread of TB and HIV. "This really is a chance to see who in South Africa is working on TB and HIV, not just those who are directly related to K-RITH," says Victoria O. Kasprowicz, K-RITH's director of education and training. "We want to help find ways to come together and identify projects that can benefit the TB and HIV research community as a whole."

Kasprowicz says that K-RITH is particularly excited to support the strong applications from eight South African master's degree and doctoral students, since training enough doctoral students is a well known problem in the country. These students either applied for the grants themselves or with the support of a mentor, and the applications were selected based on their merit. These promising students will tackle important basic science research projects, such as the role of specific immune system receptors in HIV infection, as well as clinically important research, such as the occupational risk for TB among healthcare workers.

The next K-RITH collaborative grant competition will focus on Durban-based researchers, and the results will be announced in a few months.

K-RITH is dedicated to using basic science research to find solutions that will benefit those afflicted by the HIV-TB co-epidemic, particularly the poor and vulnerable. It is currently recruiting scientists and staff to work at its new building, which is under construction on the UKZN's Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine campus in Durban.

The facility will include multiple bio-safety level 3 laboratories, which will allow scientists to work safely with TB and HIV. K-RITH will house six to nine large research groups, and Bishai expects that up to 80 scientists and 40 support staff will work there soon after the building opens in 2012.


Contact: Andrea Widener
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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