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[DURBAN] The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa will host a new research centre dedicated to exploring ways of controlling the HIV/tuberculosis co-epidemic.

The US$30 million KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) to be built at the university's Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, will also train a new generation of African scientists in tuberculosis (TB) and HIV research.

K-RITH will initially focus on developing more rapid and effective tests for TB, characterising strains of TB and immune system responses to the infection — particularly in HIV positive patients — and studying recurrent TB infections.

The US-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) will collaborate with K-RITH on research and is contributing US$20 million to the construction of the centre, which will include two floors of high-level biosafety laboratories for TB research.

The research will be led by two investigators from HHMI, William Jacobs from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Bruce Walker of the Massachusetts General Hospital and two investigators from UKZN, Willem Sturm, dean of the medical school and K-RITH's interim director and Salim Karim, director of the Centre for AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa.

HHMI has also committed a further US$40 million to the initiative over the next ten years to provide K-RITH with research funding.

To build up capacity for the centre, the HHMI distributed more than US$1.1 million in grants in 2008 to South African and US scientists. It will also provide US$3 million this year to construct temporary laboratory facilities for the TB research programme.

The K-RITH initiative offers an unusual opportunity for a comprehensive approach to research, says Karim. "Usually research is very focused, but K-RITH incorporates the entire spectrum of research. There is the laboratory side, the clinical side and the community or public health implications," he told SciDev.Net.

HHMI’s vice-president Peter Bruns says that Durban was chosen as the venue not only because it is the epicentre of the intertwined epidemic of multi-drug resistant TB and HIV but also because the UKZN scientists involved have been extensively involved in international research collaboration.

Construction of the six-story centre — which will be integrated into the existing Doris Duke Medical Research Institute — is expected to start towards the end of September this year.