Fighting the deadly duo

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is home to a research project that is gaining steady ground in battling one of the world’s most deadly duos — the fatal combination of HIV/Aids and the extremely drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis (XDR-TB).

Studies in early 2005 on patients who had died unusually quickly after being infected with HIV/Aids revealed a new strain of TB that did not respond to any of the traditional first-or second-line treatments.

‘The mortality rate of HIV-positive patients infected with XDR-TB is extremely high,” says Dr Thavi Govender of the UKZN’s school of pharmacy. ‘XDR-TB has evolved as a result of infected people not completing their TB treatments, which causes the TB virus to mutate instead of being destroyed.”

Govender says this occurs in areas where patients may not be aware that they are ill with the disease, or are not aware of the importance of completing the first line of medication.

Now Govender is working with colleagues Gert Kruger and Glenn Maguire from the school of chemistry and Patrick Govender from the school of biochemistry as part of a special research team investigating the synthesis and testing of inhibitors targeting HIV/Aids, XDR-TB, type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer, among other dread diseases.


The research team, working in partnership with Thrip and Aspen Pharmacare, has already found two promising new classes of protease inhibitors. Govender and his team are extremely excited about the quick success their research has yielded.

‘In the two-and-a-half years we have worked on this project, we have taken it to levels beyond what we could have dreamed. If we’d achieved only a fraction of these results, we would have been ecstatic. We are certainly approaching a breakthrough,” he says.

In the meantime, although the team’s research continues to make huge strides in producing an effective anti XDR-TB drug, the fight against the disease continues. ‘We have designed, synthesised, evaluated and identified a class of lead compounds with potent activity against the XDR-TB strains of TB,” says Govender.

‘Several of these compounds are already at the animal testing stage and the group has now shifted its attention to synthesising and testing antimicrobial peptides against the XDR-TB strains.”

Govender is particularly full of praise for the students, all of whom have been trained in the latest techniques and are being supervised by international collaborators. ‘They are dedicated and motivated,” he says.

‘This research team offers postgraduate students a unique opportunity in that it trains medicinal chemists — people who understand both chemistry and biology. Our students design molecules by computational chemistry, synthesise them and then evaluate the biological efficacy. These skills are in international demand and we are one of the few groups in the world to teach them,” he says. — Mail & Guardian reporter

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

The NSTF-South32 Awards

Twenty-one years of recognising excellence in science, engineering, technology and innovation

Greening Awards: Editor’s Note and Categories

There is always hope for a better world

Brain implant restores paralyzed man’s finger movements for first time

New technology developed in the US allows a paralysed man to move for the first time.

It’s high time we make cannabis available for medical research

Through the ages, many cultures have used cannabis as a medicine, but in the past 60 years prohibition has hampered research.
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Malawi court judges win global prize

Members of the small African country’s judiciary took a stand for democracy to international approval

Durban city manager says NPA erred in his bail conditions

The corruption-fraught metro is coming to grips with having a municipal manager who is on bail for graft, yet has returned to work

Why anti-corruption campaigns are bad for democracy

Such campaigns can draw attention to the widespread presence of the very behaviour they are trying to stamp out — and subconsciously encourage people to view it as appropriate

Tax, wage bill, debt, pandemic: Mboweni’s tightrope budget policy statement

The finance minister has to close the jaws of the hippo and he’s likely to do this by tightening the country’s belt, again.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday