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UCT research project into TB one of three Africa-focused seed fund winners

A University of Cape Town tuberculosis research project is one of three winners of the first Africa-fcoused seed fund, which will bring together the UCT scientists in collaboration with Imperial College London and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


The MIT-Africa-Imperial College London Seed Fund promotes early-stage collaboration between faculty and researchers at MIT, Imperial College London and institutions in Africa. The funding, worth $100,000 in total, will be used for exploratory research, small-scale experiments and for exchanges between the partner institutions.

Imperial’s vice-president (International) Professor Maggie Dallman, said: “These exciting projects bring together teams from three continents to further our understanding in physics, infectious disease and energy. Imperial’s excellence arises from attracting talented people and working with leading institutions from across many different regions and we are eager to grow and strengthen our collaborations with partners in Africa.”

Imperial has dozens of research projects taking place across Africa.

Professor Hazel Sive, director of the MIT-Africa initiative said: “The funded projects bring together investigators of the highest calibre. We look forward to promoting this wonderful opportunity at top universities across African countries. MIT has set Africa as a priority region for global engagement, and such high impact joint research programs contribute to strengthening mutually beneficial connections with African colleagues.”

Successful award winners include fluorescence detection of tuberculosis transmission (University of Cape Town). The “fluorTB” consortium comprising researchers from MIT, Imperial and UCT in South Africa will investigate how tuberculosis (TB) is transmitted. South Africa has a high incidence of TB and researchers at UCT have developed personal clean room technology to investigate when TB is transmitted – for example, whether it spreads through actions such as talking as well as coughing – and how quickly anti-TB therapy prevents the release of infectious aerosols.

The MIT-Africa-Imperial College London Seed funding will allow researchers at MIT and Imperial to explore the use of advanced fluorescence labelling – causing live bacteria to glow in a manner that will increase their visibility under a microscope. The research could help restrict the spread of TB in the future by helping doctors to determine which patients are most infectious.

UCT’s Professor Digby Warner said: “This collaboration is very exciting as it offers the potential to speed up detection of viable TB aerosols, thereby increasing the efficacy of therapeutic interventions which can be targeted to infectious individuals in real-time.”

Principal investigators are Dr Brian Robertson, Imperial, Professor Laura Kiessling, MIT, Professor Digby Warner, University of Cape Town.

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