Research Units/Centres

Biomedical Resource Unit (BRU)

The BRU is one of the largest laboratory animal facilities in South Africa. Opened in 1988, the intention was to meet the scientific needs of teachers and researchers in the area of biomedical sciences. The Unit houses and breeds a variety of research animal modes under the highest ethical and international standards. Currently the Unit breeds minimal diseased animals.

A unique feature of the Unit is a barrier system to ensure the disease-free status of the animals by means of a computer controlled access system. The Unit assists in the sterilization programme of feral cats on the Westville campus and provides veterinary expertise to the Mitchell Park Zoo and the Natal Sharks Board. It also assists fellow institutions such as the Durban Institute of Technology, the University of Western Cape, the University of the Free State and the University of Zululand.


HIV Pathogenesis Programme

Headed by Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, the HIV Pathogenesis Programme is engaged in pioneering work in HIV vaccine design. A vaccine is viewed as the best solution to combating the disease as drugs used to treat the disease are toxic and cause negative side effects.


Another expert in the programme is Dr William Carr, an Instructor in Medicine at the Ragon Institute of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) at Harvard and MIT in Boston, who has a joint appointment as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


Since 2006 Dr Carr has initiated a research program on innate immunity within the HIV Pathogenesis Programme. The mission of his research group is to do good, cutting-edge science and build capacity in South Africa through teamwork.


Dr. Carr received his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree in 1992 and a Ph.D. in immunology in 2004 from Stanford University where he trained in immunogenetics with mentorship from Professor Peter Parham. His research interests are in understanding the genetic basis of naturally occurring innate immune mechanisms underlying prevention of HIV-1 transmission and protection from HIV-1 disease progression among South Africans.


To address these questions he has initiated studies with cohorts of exposed, uninfected individuals (mother-child cohorts and adult cohorts), cohorts of acutely infected infants and adults as well as cohorts of chronically infected adults in South Africa.


His work is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Ragon Institute, MGH, and the South African AIDS Research Platform (SHARP). He currently is supervising postgraduate students (1 Ph.D. student, 1 Masters student, 1 research fellow, and 1 Durban University of Technology in-service trainee) at UKZN and has two research technicians. To address his scientific questions he uses genetic typing and sequencing, molecular biology approaches (recombinant proteins, reporter constructs and qRT-PCR), multiparametric (LSRII) flow cytometry, and cellular immunology techniques as well as in vitro virus inhibition assays. The aim of his work is to develop novel strategies for HIV vaccine development which exploit mechanisms of naturally occurring immunity.

The Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies

The Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies was established in 1997 by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the South African Medical Research Council, and the UK based charity, the Wellcome Trust. The Centre was created by these bodies to conduct and support research addressing pressing population and reproductive health questions affecting people in sub-Saharan Africa.  The Centre has been based since its inception in the Umkhanyakude district of KwaZulu-Natal, where the burden of disease from HIV is immense.  Its currently has its headquarters at Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal, with access to laboratories and offices at the University in Durban. The Centre is a two-hour drive from Durban where a cohort of 90 000 households are part of the on-going data collection. The innovative building housing this Centre has won numerous architectural awards.

Over the past few years, the Centre has evolved from a Research Centre focused on description to one focused on intervention and treatment. The detailed knowledge of the local community – based on the Africa Centre Demographic Information System as well as the well-resourced Hlabisa Health Sub-District Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) programme – places the Africa Centre in a unique position to measure the long-term impact of a population with access to well-functioning and comprehensive ART in a resource-poor, rural setting.


KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH)

A ground-breaking partnership between the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in the United States has established a US$60 million (R480) research centre focused on making major scientific contributions to the worldwide effort to control the devastating co-epidemic of HIV and Tuberculosis (TB). This is the largest infrastructural investment by the HHMI outside the USA. The cross Atlantic partnership reflects a shared view that direct and substantial investment in basic, clinical and translational research in the heart of the pandemics of HIV and TB will yield significant discoveries that will alleviate human suffering caused by these diseases.


K-RITH housed at the medical campus will feature a six storey facility with two floors of high level biosafety (BSL-3) laboratories equipped for TB research. HHMI investigators and UKZN scientists collaborate with colleagues at TB centres throughout KwaZulu-Natal in research efforts that focus on the diagnosis, pathogenesis, treatment and prevention of TB and HIV.


KwaZulu-Natal, home to more than 10 million people, has the highest burden of disease with more than 40% of its population infected with HIV/AIDS. The region became an international focus with the outbreak of Extremely Drug Resistant TB (XDR-TB) in the rural area of Tugela Ferry.

The Centre for AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA)

CAPRISA was created in 2001 and formally established in 2002 under the NIH-funded Comprehensive International Program of Research on AIDS (CIPRA) by five partner institutions; University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Cape Town, University of Western Cape, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, and Columbia University in New York. CAPRISA is a designated UNAIDS Collaborating Centre for HIV Prevention Research.

The main goal of CAPRISA is to undertake globally relevant and locally responsive research that contributes to understanding HIV pathogenesis, prevention and epidemiology as well as the links between tuberculosis and AIDS care.

To achieve this goal, CAPRISA conducts research in four main Scientific Programmes namely: HIV Pathogenesis and vaccines, HIV and TB treatment, Microbicides, and Prevention and Epidemiology. A fifth area of research on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission is conducted mainly in partnership with other Centres. Each program has a focused set of projects. Research activities at CAPRISA are supported by eight support cores including, administration, statistics, data management, laboratory, community, pharmacy, bioethics, and information systems.

 The fiduciary and policy oversight of CAPRISA is governed by the Board of Control which includes senior officials of the major partner institutions. The CAPRISA Scientific Advisory Board comprises senior researchers in the HIV/AIDS, TB and Ethics fields, as well as senior officials from the Provincial and National Department of Health. The Executive committee, responsible for the management of all CAPRISA’s activities, is chaired by the Director and includes the Centre’s senior investigators and Heads of the Support Cores.

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