With the dual goals of scientific excellence and building research capacity that is sustainable and relevant to the health needs of the population the LIIU has amassed a formidable track record in medical research and training. The Unit currently encompasses approximately 50 staff and students and undertakes laboratory based and clinically oriented studies. It has published a substantial body of work focussed on TB diagnostics, and the epidemiology and management of drug-resistant TB with articles in leading international journals. The most recent clinical trial on urine LAM, a biomarker for TB disease, showed it can save lives and was published in The Lancet. The Unit also provides consultative services and policy recommendations to the Western Cape Government and the South African National Department of Health.
With the aid of funding from the European Commission, EDCTP, South African MRC and DST, NIH, Wellcome Trust, Gates Foundation and others the LIIU also engages in extensive capacity development and networking activities across Southern Africa. Over 12 African PhD students have already graduated, with several more in the pipeline, including candidates with a background in laboratory science and specialised clinical medicine (specialist physicians, dermatologists, neurologists, and pulmonologists). The Unit collaborates with a number of formerly disadvantaged institutions within South Africa. In addition, the LIIU regularly hosts visitors, including PhD and Masters students from across the globe including the USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy India, Nigeria, UK, USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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Considerable networking with other African sites has been achieved through the EDCTP-funded TB-NEAT project (SA, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania), XACT studies (SA and Zimbabwe) and other projects including TBsusgent, SA NRF Research Chair Initiative, and SA MRC CDA etc. The LIIU is also part of the South African TESA Network of Excellence (linking 8 Southern African countries) and has contributed significantly to teaching and training, and networking within this consortium. Major achievements of the TB NEAT consortium include the LAM RCT and the Xpert RCT both published in The Lancet. Thus, much needed and considerable teaching, training, capacity development, and advocacy has been created for MDR & XDR-TB and TB diagnostics.
The research laboratories within the Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town Groote Schuur site have been enhanced, including installation of a 9-colour LSR2 flow cytometer and establishment of database management, bioinformatics capability and facilities for biobanking. A new laboratory clean room suite is currently under construction.
In addition considerable investment infrastructure has been made at several sites which, in addition to augmenting research capacity, have benefitted healthcare workers and patients. This has included improvements to the clinical infrastructure at Langa, Gugulethu, Brooklyn Chest Hospital and Chapel Street clinics in Cape Town. Clinical office and patient consulting space has been built, and sputum induction facilities and sputum booths have been installed.
A new clinical profiling research facility for cough aerosol sampling has been installed at Brooklyn Chest Hospital. This second such facility on the continent of Africa is used to study tuberculosis transmission as these state of the art facilities enable identification of patients with XDR-TB who are the most infectious. A LIIU led US NIH-funded study is currently being conducted.
The LIIU regularly convenes research courses and seminars often including international faculty that are attended by African physicians and trainees. These include a forthcoming workshop on genome sequencing and drug resistance and a course entitled ‘Meeting the challenge of drug resistant tuberculosis’. Other events include an Advanced TB Diagnostics Course (co-convened in the past with Prof Madhu Pai and Prof Karen Steingart), and TB and Pulmonary Care Updates for Primary Care Practitioners.
Prof Keertan Dheda
The Lung Infection and Immunity Unit is headed by Prof Keertan Dheda [MBBcH (Wits), FCP (SA), FCCP, PhD (Lond), FRCP (Lond)], who is Professor of Respiratory Medicine, Director of the Lung Infection and Immunity Unit (LIIU), Head of the Division of Pulmonology in the Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and adjunct member of the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine at UCT, and Visiting Professor at UCL.