Al Leslie joined K-RITH (the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV) – now part of Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) in 2012 with a clear scientific purpose: to understand exactly how human cells respond to infection with HIV and tuberculosis.
He witnessed first-hand the devastation wrought by HIV in the late 1990s while working in Malawi; first as a volunteer teacher and later as an advisor to subsistence farmers. High rates of HIV infection were compounded by extreme poverty and a lack of healthcare infrastructure in the country. Leslie recalls losing several friends to the disease during his time there.
When he returned home to England a few years later, he came across a lab devoted to studying the immune response to HIV infection and recognised an opportunity to work on the problem so painfully apparent in Malawi. He took a job as a research assistant at Oxford University, and within six months, was offered a position as a PhD student. Since then, he has devoted his studies to understanding the relationship between HIV and its host. Recently, he’s expanded those studies to include the tuberculosis-causing bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. His lab now focuses understanding the immune response to both pathogens in the tissue compartments they primarily target.