Nationality: South Africa
Institution: FRESH Clinical Cohort / UKZN / MGH / Ragon Institute
Country of work: South Africa
What is your motivation for engaging in HIV cure and remission research?
As a clinician working in South Africa during the launch of the government’s HIV treatment program in 2004, I fought against waves of misinformation and patient fears. Churches directed their members to stop ARVs in favor of prayer. Peddlers of fake cures got rich from desperate very ill patients. I spent years convincing my patients that, “there is no cure for HIV”. Then in 2013 the Mississippi baby and the Visconti cohort gave the first hope that cure was possible, followed by the ‘Berlin patient’. It has been incredible being part of early treatment efforts, but if cure is possible, I need to be a part of the effort.
What is your current area of research?
In 2012 I helped design the FRESH Cohort to enable study of the earliest immunological events following HIV infection. Located in hyper-endemic KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (>50% antenatal prevalence), FRESH has enrolled over 1,400 at risk, HIV-negative young women and identified 74 hyperacute infections, for an incidence rate of 8.2%. The majority are detected during Fiebig stage 1, a median of 4-days after their last negative HIV RNA and started on immediate ART. We are currently preparing to implement a clinical trial aimed at cure, with a combination of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) and a latency reversal agent.