Dr Muki Shey awarded prestigious Wellcome Fellowship

3 Jul 2018 - 10:00

Dr Muki SheyDr Muki Shey has been awarded a prestigious Wellcome Intermediate Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine for his work which will characterise specific immune cells that could prevent Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection.

M. tuberculosis is very infectious, yet some healthcare workers who are highly exposed in their working environment never contract TB. Dr Shey believes that this natural resistance could be attributed to variation in mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cell numbers and function. Once they come into contact with bacteria-infected cells, MAIT cells rapidly produce molecules that can directly kill infected cells thereby preventing or limiting infection.

“I was very excited to receive news about this prestigious award. I kept pinching myself to make sure I was not dreaming. This will enable me to train other young scientists and establish myself as an independent researcher focusing on the role of MAIT cells and immunogenetics in resistance to M. tuberculosis infection in individuals with high occupational exposure. Despite current protective measures, healthcare workers still have more than two-fold higher risk of getting infected compared with the general population, and we need to find additional ways to protect them”—Dr Shey

Muki will be recruiting healthcare workers from TB hospitals in South Africa to participate in the study. Participants will be asked to provide blood and lung fluid samples that will be used in laboratory analyses of MAIT cell frequency and behaviour. Ultimately, this work could lead to development of a new prophylactic tuberculosis vaccine.

Dr Shey is currently conducting research at CIDRI-Africa in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) on factors contributing to mortality in HIV-associated TB, and on cellular interactions between antigen-presenting cells and MAIT cells in healthy HIV-infected and HIV-TB co-infected individuals. He considers his research niche to lie at the interface of basic and clinical research where research findings can be translated from the laboratory to the clinic, and vice versa.

Muki obtained his PhD in Clinical Sciences and Immunology from UCT in 2012; he investigated the effect of age and genetics on innate immune responses to the BCG vaccine, the only licenced vaccine against TB. He found that both these factors affect responses to BCG and could be considered in rational design of novel vaccines against tuberculosis. He has also contributed to understanding of the contribution of inflammation to HIV acquisition risk in women, and T cell response to novel TB vaccines.

He is committed to continuing his research on diseases of relevance to Africa and establishing a solid base at UCT which will contribute to postgraduate and postdoctoral training, as well as setting the national and international agenda for strategies in TB prevention.


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