Prof Valerie Mizrahi
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the leading causes of infectious deaths in the world, claiming approximately 1.3 million lives per annum. In addition, 8 million new cases of TB are identified every year. The high rate of HIV co-infection is a major driver of the TB epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. As a consequence, TB is the leading cause of death in South Africa, which faces the highest burden of HIV-associated TB in the world: 6.4 million of the population is HIV-infected, half a million people develop TB disease annually and 30% of the world’s cases of HIV-associated TB are diagnosed in this country.
TB is caused by the bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a formidable intracellular pathogen which is estimate to infect approximately one third of the world's population. The variable efficacy of the BCG vaccine, combined with the evolution and spread of strains of M. tuberculosis that are resistant to first- and second-line TB drugs, underscores the urgent need to develop new tools for the control of this devastating disease.
Against this background, the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit (MMRU) was established in 2000 as a three-way partnership between the MRC, the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). In January 2011, the MMRU moved to the University of Cape Town (UCT) coincident with the appointment of Professor Mizrahi as Director of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) at UCT. The Unit comprises senior scientists, post-doctoral fellows, PhD and students, as well as technical and administrative staff. The Director, Professor Mizrahi is a Senior International Research Scholar (SIRS) of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and currently serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of K-RITH, and on the Discovery Expert Group of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2013, Professor Mizrahi was awarded the prestigious 2013 Grand Prix Christophe Mérieux Prize by the Institute de France in recognition of her contribution to TB research training nationally and internationally. The Deputy Director, Associate Professor Digby Warner, was recently awarded two NIH grants under the South Africa – U.S. Program for Collaborative Biomedical Research.
The MMRU aims to apply an integrated genetic, biochemical and physiological approach to investigate aspects of the physiology and metabolism of Mycobacterium tuberculosis of particular relevance to tuberculosis (TB) drug discovery, drug resistance, mycobacterial persistence and TB transmission. The MMRU participates in major TB drug discovery consortia funded by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation under the TB Drug Accelerator program (HIT-TB), the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Union (MM4TB), and the SA MRC (SATRII, funded by the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships), and is responsible for the bacteriology component of UCT’s Flagship 1 project funded by the SAMRC and led by Professor Robin Wood.