South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)
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Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit (RMPRU)


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Director: Prof. Shabir Madhi

The RMPRU was established in 1997, with an original research mandate to investigate pneumococcal diseases at the molecular, epidemiological, clinical and pharmacological levels. Over time, the Unit has evolved to include investigating the clinical and molecular epidemiology of other bacteria and respiratory viruses that are associated with pneumonia and meningitis. Also, the Unit has established itself to be a premier clinical trial facility for vaccine and training platforms for post-graduate students. The Unit has undertaken pivotal studies on pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which have helped inform the utilisation of these vaccines in low-to-middle income countries. Also, the pneumococcal vaccine studies have helped inform the interaction of pneumococcus in relation to respiratory viruses and tuberculosis associated acute community acquired pneumonia. More recently, the Unit has further evolved to focus specifically on the epidemiology and prevention of infections during the neonatal period. This is pertinent, as deaths during the first month of life, one-third of which are due to infections, are responsible for 40% of all under-5 mortality. Included in the portfolio of work on neonatal infections are the clinical and molecular epidemiology and prevention of Group B Streptococcus; which is the leading cause of neonatal sepsis in South Africa. Also, the Unit has embarked on programmes aimed at vaccinating pregnant women to confer passive immunity and protect infants during their first few months of life. These include studies on the influenza vaccine, GBS conjugate vaccine, pertussis vaccine and RSV vaccines being given to pregnant women.

The activities of the Unit are currently focused on the following key areas:

  1. S. pneumoniae: Clinical and molecular epidemiology, and direct and indirect impact of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines against invasive pneumococcal disease and pneumonia
  2. Pneumonia: Molecular assays for studying the epidemiology of pneumonia, including molecular detection of Bordetella pertussis and atypical pneumonia-causing pathogens (Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydophila pneumoniae and Legionella spp); and molecular assays for sampling serum to determine the role of H. influenzae and S. aureus in the etiology of pneumonia
  3. Neonatal sepsis: Clinical epidemiology and prevention of infections during early infancy, including evaluation of new molecular technology (TaqMan Array Card) in diagnosing early-onset and community-acquired sepsis in young infants
  4.  Vaccinating pregnant women to prevent neonatal infections, including influenza vaccination, GBS vaccine, pertussis vaccine and RSV vaccine
  5. Immunological correlates of protection studies on neonatal GBS sepsis, GBS colonisation of pregnant women, RSV infection and pertussis
  6. Clinical and molecular epidemiology and prevention of influenza in high-risk groups, including HIV-infected individuals, pregnant women and adults with TB

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Last updated:
29 February, 2016
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