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SU awarded R28 million grant to investigate immune systems of HIV-positive mothers, newborns
Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking [Alec Basson]
Published: 20/05/2024

​​​Prof Clive Gray from the Division of Immunology in the Biomedical Research Institute at Stellenbosch University (SU) has been awarded a R28 million grant over five years from the Fogarty International Centre at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to initiate a training programme to understand the immune systems of HIV-positive mothers and their newborns in Africa.

The grant is for the multidisciplinary, international, and intercontinental African HIV training programme known as Next Generation Training in HIV Research: Immunity in the First 1000 days in mother-infant dyads (TIGRIS).  

Through rigorous clinical and basic science laboratory training, TIGRIS will investigate specific hypotheses related to how HIV infection in pregnant women leads to adverse birth outcomes and ensuing immune dysfunction in children. The primary site will be at SU, with the main partner being the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, USA.

“Reproductive immunology (interactions between the immune system and reproductive processes) in the context of HIV infection is a totally under-developed field globally and specifically in Africa, where the majority of the world's pregnant people with HIV live. Understanding the impact of maternal HIV infection on the developing baby in the womb and after birth is the focus of TIGRIS," says Gray. He is also Head of the Reproductive Immunology Research Consortium in Africa group (RIRCA) at SU. RIRCA is a consortium of immunologists and paediatricians conducting research into markers and mechanisms of poor birth outcomes and perinatal outcomes which have an immunology aetiology (the study of the causes of immune-related conditions).

Gray adds that the NIH grant will “allow us to build up RIRCA into a dynamic research, training, and teaching hub. It builds on the solid research backbone my team has built up over the past 3 years at SU and extends it to training and teaching across Africa and partnering research labs in the United Kingdom (UK) and the USA.

“We will be able to leverage this training grant to apply for more research funds from the NIH and other donor funders to strengthen our research portfolio and thus provide more training opportunities for MMed and PhD students, as well as post-doctoral fellows."

`TIGRIS has multiple co-investigators from the USA (Morehouse School of Medicine, Stanford University, Duke University, Weill-Cornell Medical College, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Seattle Children's Research Institute and Harvard University); Canada (University of Toronto); and the UK (Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Surrey). The wide spectrum of global immunology experts will serve as mentors by providing short- and medium-term laboratory training for registered MMed and PhD students and post-doctoral fellows in South Africa, Benin, Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda.

Gray says they expect to collectively train 45 students at SU and its African partners. “The trainees will also further our understanding of how HIV disrupts the health of mothers and newborns as well as the functions of the placenta."

  • ​Click here to read more about Prof Clive Gray.​