Targeted STI Management Approach Reduces Genital Infections and Pro-inflammatory Cytokines
Dr Andile Ntombikhona Mtshali regards her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Health Sciences (Medical Microbiology) as another step in her journey to become a successful research scientist.
Her study aimed to determine the impact of enhanced management of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to restore the genital microbiome on genital cytokines and the genital microbiome among South African women at high risk of contracting HIV.
The study showed that a targeted STI management approach improved infection management and effectively reduced genital concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines which are HIV-risk factors. In contrast, bacterial vaginosis treatment induced a short-term shift in the vaginal microbiota and mucosal cytokines, implying the need for alternative antimicrobial treatment of bacterial vaginosis (BV). This was the first study to assess the impact of enhanced STI and BV management and their impact on genital inflammation in women.
Hailing from Swart-Mfolozi in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal, Mtshali is currently doing post-doctoral fellowship training at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and aspires to become an independent scientist.
She described her PhD journey as a mix of exciting and stressful moments. ‘I encountered countless challenges, but bearing in mind that a PhD is a process that takes time and patience kept me going. There were times I was vulnerable, but with support, I bounced back.’
Her interest in research on STIs was sparked during her honours studies, when she was exposed to laboratory diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections.
Mtshali thanked her supervisors, Drs Lenine Liebenberg and Sinaye Ngcapu, and her family for their support. ‘My family gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person; they believed in me. They remain my number one cheerleaders.’
Words: Lihle Sosibo