At the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation’s (DTHF) March research meeting, we had the pleasure of not one, but two presentations. The speakers were the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Ms Monika Kamkuemah and the DTHF’s Dr Emily Krogstad.
HIV and Chronic Disease
Ms Kamkuemah presented her PhD proposal where she intends to examine HIV in adolescents alongside the epidemiology of other chronic diseases such as diabetes and asthma. South African adolescents have the highest rates of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa (1), while diabetes is now the leading cause of death of women in South Africa (2). Lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise can contribute to the development of diabetes. Kamkuemah is interested in examining which risk behaviours are present in adolescents that contribute to the development of chronic diseases. Examples of these include activities such as tobacco use, diet and physical inactivity. This will lay the foundation for the development of prevention strategies.
Her study will be based initially in Cape Town but with an aim to expanding the catchment area.
HIV Prevention and Bioengineering
Dr Krogstad discussed her PhD research at the University of Washington where she designed, made and tested nanofibres that contained an HIV-prevention drug. The final aim was to create a fabric that could be inserted into high HIV-risk bodily areas (i.e. vaginally or rectally) and, by doing so, prevent the virus from establishing HIV infection during sex. The fabric would dissolve and deliver the drug to prevent HIV infection.
The advantage with these sorts of products over others such as an oral pill is that they act faster and apply the drug straight to the area at risk of infection. Additionally, there are often fewer side effects as the drug does not need to pass through other areas of the body to get to its target site.
The sheet itself is thin and feels very soft in texture. It is made using a process called electrospinning that produces extremely fine fibres that are as small as 100 nanometres in diameter. That is 1000 times smaller than a strand of human hair. This process gives the bioengineers a lot of control over the fibre’s properties: size, structure, shapes, geometries, and how long it takes to dissolve. This is advantageous because it can be used to control drug delivery time.
The group are still testing different formulations of drugs to best target both HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and even for use as a contraceptive sperm barrier. The possibilities for this nanofibre technology are vast; the next stage will be designing a more desirable product that people will want to or feel more comfortable using.
We congratulate both our speakers on their excellent presentations and wish them the best of luck with their research.