Dr Wynand Goosen, from the Animal TB Research group in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), has received a substantial grant from the Wellcome Trust to develop novel molecular diagnostic tools to help identify potential zoonotic pathogens.
The swift identification of these pathogens will allow for accurate diagnosis, provide information on sources of infection, and on possible drug sensitivity, and to sound the alarm early on issues of public health concern.
In South Africa this is of particular concern because of the endemic HIV population.
The Wellcome Trust is a politically and financially independent global charitable foundation, which is funded by an investment portfolio left to it by its founder, Sir Henry Wellcome, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur. The mission of the foundation is to improve health by means of research, and to help solve the urgent health challenges facing humanity.
One of the biggest of these challenges is infectious diseases, which cause approximately one quarter of all deaths around the world.
“Our ambition is to ensure the world is protected against different types of infectious disease, and the threat of disease escalation now and in the future," says Gordon Dougan, Interim Director of Infectious Diseases at the Wellcome Trust.
Goosen, the recipient of this award, is an international TB “one health" researcher at the livestock-wildlife-human-environment transmission interface.
The aim of this award is to provide support to researchers in the early years of their research careers in order to consolidate their research skills and to get additional training to allow them to explore new research areas within the international science remit.
“This fellowship is designed so that applicants learn new research skills and techniques that they will need to establish themselves as independent international research leaders in the future," says Goosen.
He was awarded £194 849 (almost R4 million) from the Wellcome Trust for his research on the following topic: Improved diagnosis of Mycobacteria spp. in livestock and wildlife from rural communities of South Africa.
“In South Africa, limited research on zoonotic and anthroponotic Mycobacteria spp. infections has been conducted, especially in HIV burdened rural communities and informal urban settlements," says Goosen.
“Infection with pathogenic Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTBC) and opportunistic nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) can cause morbidity, and mortality among both humans and animals, and affect productivity and livelihoods among people. Nontuberculous mycobacteria, which are ubiquitous in the environment, may produce a spectrum of disease that mimic M. tuberculosis (Mtb) or M. bovis infections, but vary in their responsiveness to conventional TB drug regimens," explains Goosen.
Investigation of sources and identification of specific agents can help to prevent further transmission, especially in countries that have endemic HIV populations, as South Africa does. People can easily encounter the hosts for these TB infections by means of contact with domestic animals not kept in enclosures, or by means of contact with wildlife.
Goosen's research is aimed at identifying these zoonotic pathogens rapidly, and to tailor make a treatment or management plan for these patients.
“I hope that this research will allow for accurate diagnosis, provide important information regarding potential sources of infection and drug sensitivity, as well as identify emerging pathogens of public health concern," explains Goosen.