Tackling Fungal Infections: First staff appointed to Cape Town AFGrica Unit

Tackling Fungal Infections: First staff appointed to Cape Town AFGrica Unit

A new ground-breaking fungal infection research unit run by the University of Aberdeen and University of Cape Town has appointed its first two scientists.

The major burden of serious invasive fungal infections is borne by low and middle income countries, particularly in Africa, where around 50% of people diagnosed with invasive fungal infections die as a result of the infection.

To address this issue, the Universities of Aberdeen and Cape Town (UCT) joined forces to open the world’s first international research centre for tackling fungal infections; the AFGrica Unit, which opened in Cape Town in August 2017. 

The University of Aberdeen AFGrica Unit, directed by Professor Gordon Brown, is based at UCT’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, headed by Professor Valerie Mizrahi, and is aimed at targeting the priority areas in fungal disease that are relevant to the African continent.

The first two scientists to have been appointed to the AFGrica Unit are Dr Liliane Mukaremera and Dr J. Claire Hoving.

Dr Liliane Mukaremera was born and raised in Rwanda and experienced first-hand problems related to poverty and infectious diseases in Africa.  Liliane’s research interests focus on understanding factors that affect the interaction between fungal pathogens and their host, with an aim to understand how these fungi evade the host immune system. One of her primary interests is the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans which causes meningitis, particularly in patients with HIV/AIDS, and results in around 130 000 deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa every year.

Dr J. Claire Hoving is a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellow in Public Health and Tropical Medicine whose research aims at understanding host immune responses to HIV-related fungal infections. Her current major focus is understanding the immune response to Pneumocystis jirovecii, which is a common cause of pneumonia and death in patients with HIV/AIDS in Africa and which is estimated to kill over 250 000 worldwide every year.

Professor Val Mizrahi said: “The statement of intent conveyed by the appointment of these two outstanding researchers could not be clearer: we, at UCT, in partnership with our colleagues at the University of Aberdeen are determined to do everything possible to support Liliane and Claire in their mission to make the AFGrica Unit research and training powerhouse in this critically important field.”

Professor Gordon Brown, Director of the AFGrica Unit said:  “Our ability to tackle fungal infections is significantly hampered by a lack of capacity in scientists and doctors with expertise in this area, especially in low and middle-income countries which suffer the greatest burdens of disease.

“The creation of the AFGrica Unit and the appointment of these two outstanding scientists, is the first step in creating a platform for research and training in Africa that is aimed at tackling these devastating diseases.”