The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) groundbreaking fungal infection research unit, which was opened in 2017 in cooperation with the University of Aberdeen to address the major burden of disease borne by low- and middle-income countries, has appointed its first two scientists.
About 50% of the people in Africa who are diagnosed with invasive fungal infections die as a result of the infection. This statistic prompted the University of Aberdeen to join forces with UCT to address the issue.
Their joint venture led to the establishment of the world’s first international research centre for tackling fungal infections, the University of Aberdeen AFGrica Unit, which opened at UCT in August 2017.
Directed by Professor Gordon Brown, the unit is based at UCT’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, headed by Professor Valerie Mizrahi. It will target the priority areas in fungal disease that are relevant to the African continent.
“The appointment of these two outstanding scientists is the first step in creating a platform for research and training in Africa that is aimed at tackling these devastating diseases.”
The first two scientists to be appointed to the unit are Fogarty Global Health Fellow Dr Liliane Mukaremera and Dr J Claire Hoving, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellow in Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Born and raised in Rwanda, Mukaremera experienced first-hand the problems associated with poverty and infectious diseases in Africa.
Her research interests include a focus on understanding factors affecting the interaction between fungal pathogens and their host, with a view to determining how these fungi evade the host immune system.
One of her primary interests is the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans, which causes meningitis, particularly in patients with HIV or AIDS, and results in around 130 000 deaths in sub-Saharan Africa every year.
Hoving’s research aims at understanding host immune responses to HIV-related fungal infections.
Her current major focus is understanding the immune response to Pneumocystis jirovecii, which is a common cause of pneumonia and death in patients with HIV or AIDS in Africa. It is estimated to cause the deaths of more than 250 000 people worldwide every year.
Mizrahi welcomed the appointment of these two “outstanding” researchers.
“We, at UCT, in partnership with our colleagues at the University of Aberdeen, are determined to do everything possible to support Liliane and Claire in their mission to make the AFGrica Unit research a training powerhouse in this critically important field,” she said.
Brown said the ability to tackle fungal infections was seriously hampered by a lack of scientific and medical capacity in the field, particularly in low- and middle-income countries which suffer the greatest burdens of disease.
“The creation of the AFGrica Unit and the appointment of these two outstanding scientists is the first step in creating a platform for research and training in Africa that is aimed at tackling these devastating diseases,” he said.
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