HHMI and the University of KwaZulu-Natal open new research institute in Durban, South Africa.

The KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH), a partnership of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), will officially open its doors on October 9, 2012, onto an advanced research facility, where some of the brightest scientific minds from Africa and around the globe concentrate on contributing to the control of tuberculosis (TB) and HIV.

Located in Durban, South Africa, one of the major centers of the TB/HIV co-infection, K-RITH’s mission is to pursue basic research and to translate those scientific findings into new tools to control the two devastating diseases. In addition, the institute will expand scientific training in South Africa, helping to prepare a new generation of leaders in TB/HIV research. K-RITH scientists will collaborate with scientists at UKZN, HHMI, and other academic and clinical institutions in South Africa and around the world. Important discoveries made at K-RITH are expected to affect treatments not only in Durban, but also globally.

"The essence of basic clinical research and training is to have the best facilities and brightest researchers attracted where diseases are prevalent,” said Malegapuru William Makgoba, Vice Chancellor of UKZN. “K-RITH is an example of such a magnet of an epicentric-driven research and training institute, addressing two of the world's most pressing health problems, HIV and TB."

An estimated 5.7 million South African residents are infected with HIV—more residents than in any other country in the world. South Africa also has one of the highest per capita rates of tuberculosis in the world. In KwaZulu-Natal province, about 17 percent of residents have HIV, and a staggering 80 percent of adults who have TB are also HIV-infected. Populations with high rates of HIV/AIDS are particularly vulnerable to tuberculosis and understanding this correlation is one of the scientific questions K-RITH research seeks to address.

At K-RITH, scientists work in an eight-story, state-of-the-art facility with one entire floor dedicated to high-level, biosafety (BSL-3) laboratories to enable the safe handling of TB and HIV for research. The institute houses core facilities dedicated to microbiology, immunology, pharmacology, high-throughput biology, and clinical protocol development. K-RITH, which is incorporated as a UKZN-based, South African nonprofit company, seeks to use these resources to benefit the broader research community in South Africa, the African continent, and beyond.

We need to bring basic research to the heart of an epidemic rather than fight diseases in laboratories thousands of miles away.

Robert Tjian

“The world needs to study diseases in the context where they are most prevalent,” said Robert Tjian, president of HHMI. “We need to bring basic research to the heart of an epidemic rather than fight diseases in laboratories thousands of miles away. The TB/HIV epidemic is a local problem requiring a local solution initially. But that solution likely will affect the entire world.”

The collaboration between UKZN and HHMI positions K-RITH to become part of the fabric of South Africa’s high-quality research community. Centrally situated in downtown Durban, at the center of the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, K-RITH is adjacent to several major hospitals, including: King Edward VII Hospital, Albert Luthuli Hospital, King George V Hospital, and McCord Hospital. Ties to HHMI, UKZN, and other institutions in Africa, North America, Europe, and Asia will enable K-RITH investigators to work with innovative scientists locally and globally.

HHMI has committed $75 million to K-RITH over 10 years, starting in 2008. UKZN and the Technology Innovation Agency, a biotechnology center of the South African government, made substantial commitments to the institute as well. K-RITH Director William R. Bishai M.D., Ph.D., sees these investments as the end of a half century of worldwide neglect and the beginning of world-changing research to control the deadly co-infection.

“We’re at a pivotal point in the tuberculosis/HIV co-epidemic,” Bishai said. “We’re headed towards renewed investment and a scientific mandate to develop better tools for the control of these diseases.”

K-RITH aims to be fully established and integrated into the overall South African and global research enterprise by 2018.

Note: As of July 2016, K-RITH is now the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI).


About the University of KwaZulu-Natal

Globally the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is one of four African universities ranked in the top 400 in the world according to the Times Higher Education of World University Rankings. The University is a multi-campus, residential, teaching and research university, based in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is rated as one of the top three in research output in South Africa and is structured into four Colleges. It offers a full range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes across these Colleges. The University is located on five campuses and has over 41 500 students of whom approximately 32 475 are undergraduate and 9 508 are postgraduate. As one of South Africa’s pre-eminent research institutions, the university provides a dynamic environment for all facets of the research and innovation spectrum. Research studies span the natural, biomedical and social sciences and the humanities. The University has over 2 640 registered international students from more than 80 countries and has links with over 260 international institutions, which facilitate ongoing collaborative academic partnerships.

About the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays a powerful role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the United States and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects accurately the excitement of scientific research.

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Jim Keeley 301.215.8858