Meet the CIPHER grantees

Ute Feucht

Year awarded: 2017
Institution: University of Pretoria, South Africa
Research site: Kalafong Provincial Hospital, University of Pretoria
Primary mentor: Robert Pattinson, University of Pretoria

Ute Feucht is a paediatrician, working with the District Health Services of the South African Department of Health in a team tasked with improving maternal and child health services.

More information on Ute | Email

“The CIPHER grant has given me the scope to be the principal investigator of this research study. It has greatly contributed towards my establishment as a researcher.”

Research project: Assessment of factors impacting on fetal and infant immunity and growth in HIV- and antiretroviral-exposed uninfected children (the “Siyakhula” study)

The issue

The introduction of potent ART during pregnancy and breastfeeding has greatly improved the health of mothers living with HIV and reduced the number of children living with HIV. Despite this, immune dysfunction, inflammation and cognitive and metabolic abnormalities persist in individuals living with HIV on ART and in HIV-exposed but uninfected (HEU) children, predicting subsequent morbidity and mortality.

HIV infection also has profound effects on maternal physiology and pregnancy outcomes. It remains unclear, however, whether the inflammatory and metabolic derangements in mothers living with HIV on ART and/or potential ART toxicity shape infant development, encompassing maturation and function of the immune system. This would set infants on a path towards suboptimal growth and development, as well as lifelong compromised immune function.

The CIPHER project

HThe overall goal of Dr Feucht’s study is to understand how the in utero and early postnatal environments, altered by maternal HIV, influence infants’ growth trajectories and cognitive development, and alter their immune development and function, irrespective of the infants’ HIV status. The study will evaluate how maternal HIV and early life factors (breast milk and secondary infections) modify relationships between HIV exposure and key developmental outcomes, including infant growth, cognitive development and immune function.

The impact

Dr Feucht will leverage the samples and data generated from this study to achieve the overall goal through additional in-kind contributions towards detailed immune and microbial phenotyping, and through future funding applications that will address metabophenotyping and mechanistic studies. Findings will have implications for the mitigation of suboptimal growth and development and susceptibility to infections in children born to mothers living with HIV.