SANTHE Director awarded top honour for ground-breaking health research

Wednesday, 1 November, 2017

Professor Glenda Gray, SA MRC CEO and President, and Professor Thumbi Ndung'u, SANTHE Programme Director.The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has awarded SANTHE Programme Director, Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, a Gold Medal for his seminal scientific contributions to the fields of HIV and tuberculosis research.

Ndung’u, who runs a laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) and holds a Professorship at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban, South Africa, was presented his medal at the 2017 SAMRC Scientific Merit Awards gala dinner in Cape Town last night (31 October). The Awards are among South Africa’s most prestigious. The Gold Medal is awarded annually to established senior scientists who have made key scientific contributions that have impacted on the health of people.

Ndung’u’s research is ultimately focussed on designing a vaccine or cure strategy for two of South Africa’s major killer diseases, HIV and TB. He works to understand how the immune system fights off these diseases, and how these pathogens in turn evade or adapt to continuous immune pressure. He has made seminal contributions to our understanding of how the immune system is able to partially control HIV, demonstrating how genetic factors and viral factors interact to determine the clinical outcome of a patient. He has also identified viral genetic factors that are linked to HIV transmission and how the disease progresses. His special interest in capacity building for biomedical research in Africa, is reflected in his leadership of SANTHE, which strives to empower African scientists.

He said, “I am delighted to receive this award and recognition! In reality, this is an award not just for me but for my entire team. I am blessed to have had generous mentors, incredibly gifted colleagues and students that have made my research journey enjoyable and rewarding. Most of all, I have enjoyed unqualified and unwavering support from my family and friends who keep reminding me to laugh and smile more through life.”

Ndung’u is also the South African Research Chair in Systems Biology of HIV/Aids, a Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology Research Group Leader, Adjunct Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Scientific Director at UKZN’s HIV Pathogenesis Programme.