New lab facility in South Africa will focus on TB and HIV

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) opened a seven-story, 40,000 square-foot research center in early October that will primarily focus on the twin scourges of tuberculosis (TB) and HIV. The KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV—or K-RITH for short—will occupy five of the seven floors and has already recruited eight of its 10 principal investigators. The Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and UKZN will occupy the remaining two floors. The building is on the campus of the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban. K-RITH, established in 2008, had been in temporary space on the Durban campus.

HHMI supplied US$40 million for K-RITH—$30 million for construction of the facility and an additional $10 million to equip the floors, which include biosafety level-3 laboratories that will enable scientists to do hands-on research on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, drug-resistant M. tuberculosis, and HIV. In addition, HHMI has committed $3 million a year for 10 years to fund operating costs and additional funds for recruitment. UKZN contributed $10 million to the K-RITH facility as well.

K-RITH’s initial focus has been in five research areas: the development of faster diagnostic tests for TB; characterizing drug-resistant strains of TB; analyzing and characterizing complex immune responses to TB; the study of recurrent TB infections in HIV-infected individuals; and improving the treatment of TB. But the research facility also plans to participate in TB and AIDS vaccine trials.

Jill Conley, program director in the science department at HHMI, said K-RITH was a major leap forward for the Maryland-based research institute. “This is our first real international partnership,” she said. “It was new for the whole organization and it took a lot of ground work.” —Regina McEnery