Harry Crossley Clinical Fellowships for two CIDRI-Africa clinician-scientists

21 May 2019 - 09:00

Image of Ashley Jacobs and Elsa du Bruyn outside CIDRI-Africa officesCIDRI-Africa clinician-scientist PhD fellows Elsa du Bruyn and Ashley Jacobs were recently awarded further support for their research by the Harry Crossley Foundation. Both will be researching aspects of tuberculosis (TB) infection in the context of HIV infection.

Elsa’s research will build on indications that the cell-surface molecule CD153 may be a key component in the control of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection. She will investigate the effect of HIV infection on CD153 expression as well as whether there are any differences in CD153 expression on Mtb-specific T cells found at the site of disease versus those in peripheral blood. In addition, she will investigate whether increased levels of soluble CD30 (the ligand of CD153) associate with poor treatment outcomes in TB.

 “We are really interested in better understanding how CD153 works and whether HIV can down-regulate its expression on Mtb-specific T cells to the extent that its relative absence may contribute to the increased susceptibility of HIV infected individuals to TB.”, said Dr du Bruyn.

If Elsa can establish that CD153 is a marker of protection, it could be used together with interferon-γ to more comprehensively evaluate TB vaccine efficacy in clinical trials. Soluble CD30 levels could be used to predict TB treatment response in clinical practice.

"The notion that antibodies contribute to protection against TB is gaining traction.” –Dr Ashley Jacobs.

 Ashley is working towards understanding the role of antibodies in immunity against Mtb. He hypothesizes that certain HIV infected individuals possess antibodies that help prevent them from becoming ill with TB. He plans to generate a panel of monoclonal antibodies from their blood samples, and will then test the ability of these antibodies to restrict the growth of Mtb in the laboratory.

“We want to identify whether people living with HIV make functional antibodies against Mtb. This could provide insight into how to better vaccinate people against TB, and also inform us about immunity against Mtb in this at-risk population.", said Dr Jacobs.

"We are very pleased the Harry Crossley Foundation will provide additional resources to the studies of Elsa and Ashley.  Both are emerging South African Physician Scientists and the visibility and prestige of these awards will hopefully encourage others to follow the same path."—  Prof. Robert J Wilkinson, CIDRI-Africa Director.

Harry Crossley Clinical Research Fellowships enable early career researchers to focus full-time on clinical and translational research at UCT’s Faculty of Health Sciences.