UKZN Hosts Harvard Scholars
UKZN Clinicians from the Department of Infectious Diseases hosted Harvard University’s Translational Medicine students at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine in Durban.
The students were part of the unmet medical need and translational solutions, a Harvard Medical School (HMS) course co-organised by the Ragon Institute and co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
UKZN’s Infectious Diseases HoD, Professor Yunus Moosa, welcomed the visiting visitors and detailed the challenges, limitations, and importance of globally relevant and locally responsive research in a resource-limited setting.
Staff in the Department, Dr Melanie John and Dr Bernadett Gosnell, spoke about their research which essentially rose out of questions that emerged during patient care and ward rounds at King Edward VIII Hospital. Their research topics include diverse infectious diseases such as genital herpes, histoplasmosis, cryptococcal meningitis, parvo B19 viral infection and tuberculosis.
Gosnell said: ‘During discussion it was clear that management guidelines from the developed world are often not practical or cost effective for local application.’
She said there was consensus that locally relevant research is critical to generate an evidence base for adapting guidelines to regional needs.
The HMS course consists of a two-week “bootcamp”, at Harvard, where teaching is concentrated on how unmet medical needs are evaluated and how the routes of ‘translation’ into novel therapeutics are navigated and approved for clinical use.
Course faculty director, Dr Jagesh Shah said ‘Through case studies and interactive discussions with experienced faculty staff, the students gain deep insight into the opportunities and challenges in turning unmet needs into therapies.’
The course includes lecturers from Harvard and MIT as well as the pharmaceutical and biotechnology commercial sector, including Novartis, Biogen, Genzyme, Vertex and others.
The global component of the class includes an additional week in Durban where students are involved in field work and have exposure to various groups including UKZN’s Department of Infectious Diseases, the HIV Pathogenesis Programme, and the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH), among others.
While the students were in the country they focused on the HIV epidemic and the complications associated with infection and HAART. They investigated unmet medical needs and the clinical and social solutions to detect, diagnose, and treat the disease.
The course featured assessments of unmet medical needs, case studies of successes and failures in translation, seminars from translational experts, and workshops engaging students in substantive and intensive discussions on current topics.
Harvard scholar from Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Elise Renaud, said: ‘I really appreciate this opportunity to be a part of Harvard's Translational Medicine course because I continue to get a more comprehensive sense of the difficulties in making all our bright ideas practical. They are all possible, but it is going to take a very long time. Thankfully, I get to work with enthusiasts who are as driven as I am and continue to persevere, in spite of huge obstacles, for better global health.’