Background to the Research

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the causative agent of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), impacts both the immune and metabolic systems of its host, ultimately affecting disease pathogenesis. Viral dormancy further complicates the eradication of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Apart from the development of HIV and/or treatment-associated comorbidities, the mechanisms of which still have to be elucidated, individuals are heterogeneous in their response to HIV exposure and infection, thus not everyone follows the typical survival trend. The heterogeneous responses have largely been attributed to host genetics while the role of the genes on metabolism and the subsequent role thereof on disease pathogenesis has lagged.

At the point of succumbing to AIDS, infected individuals are highly susceptible to opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis (TB), brought on by pathogens such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). HIV/TB coinfection and the development of multi-drug-resistant Mtb is increasing rapidly, complicating diagnosis and treatment of the disease. In addition to HIV/TB coinfection, more than 15% of all TB cases are attributed to pre-existing diabetes. This non-communicable disease not only triples the risk of developing active TB, but it also promotes TB treatment failure.  As such, it isn’t surprising that TB/diabetes co-morbidity is considered an ever-looming global co-epidemic that is in desperate need for metabolic characterisation.

The Laboratory of Infectious and Acquired Diseases is focused on investigating various aspects relating to, among others, HIV, TB, the neuro-metabolic footprint associated with infectious diseases, as well as the development and pathogenesis of comorbidities and non-communicable diseases. In addition to identifying biomarkers which better characterise these conditions in terms of metabolic alterations, through the development and application of state of the art metabolomics technologies and approaches, we also strive to determine the mechanisms of action, uncover host-pathogen interactions, and metabolic toxicity of various medications that counteract these diseases. Considering the extremely high prevalence of these infections in South Africa in particular, the laboratory is perfectly situated for addressing this problem, not only with regards to its location and collaborations with various local and international pathology laboratories, clinics and other infectious disease institutions, but also with regards to its research relevance towards curbing global infectious diseases.

On a lighter note, our research group also investigates the metabolic impact of endurance running activities, as well as the aided and unaided recovery thereof. Endurance running (> 5km) is a well-known leisure-activity that has rapidly evolved into a highly competitive sport, however, various potentially deleterious effects may arise, providing a platform for the commercialisation of a variety of recovery modalities. Since metabolomics provides a representation/prediction of the phenotypic state at a specific point in time, it is an excellent reseach approach to not only determine the effects of these activities on a molecular level, but to elaborate on the effectiveness of various strategies that may expedite athlete recovery.