Howard Hughes Medical Institute 2010 Annual Report

K-RITH Director William R. Bishai

K-RITH Director William R. Bishai

Bishai on the Challenge of a Lifetime

In May 2010, William R. Bishai was named the first full-time director for the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH). A collaboration between HHMI and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, K-RITH was created to study the deadly convergence of HIV and tuberculosis (TB). A veteran TB scientist at Johns Hopkins University, Bishai’s own research focuses on understanding how and why the bacteria that causes TB has been so successful in infecting humans.

Q: What is your vision for K-RITH?

A: My vision for K-RITH comes in stages, and the first stage has already started. The building is designed, and construction is about to get started on the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine campus in Durban. Once the building has been built and the right people have been recruited, the real excitement can begin, which is the discovery and the science.

Q: What will be K-RITH’s research focus?

A: In trying to develop better vaccines and better drugs, we need to have faster, more accurate ways of telling whether patients have a TB infection or a TB-HIV coinfection and whether they are responding to treatment. It would be the culmination of the K-RITH mission if discoveries begin as basic science and end with better biomarkers or therapeutics or preventive treatments, and the entire process was completed right there in KwaZulu-Natal. There is so much to be done. I’m confident that a lot of exciting things are going to happen.

Q: Who do you expect to work at K-RITH?

A: One of the key ingredients of K-RITH’s success will be the people, and we are currently recruiting scientists and clinicians to work at the institute. Having spent the majority of my career focusing on TB and TB-HIV, this is a tremendous opportunity to be able to do research right in the epicenter of both HIV and TB. I’m convinced that the same calculation that I made in taking this job will be in the minds of scientists worldwide who are considering positions at K-RITH.

Q: Will students be a part of K-RITH?

A: Working to build the next generation of African scientists is an important part of K-RITH’s mission. We will have the opportunity to empower students who come premotivated and predetermined that they want to make a difference in this disease because they’ve seen it in their own communities and some of them even in their own families. With that kind of backdrop, I know we’ll have great opportunities for success.

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Photo Credit: Paul Fetters