William Bishai has been named the first director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV in Durban, South Africa. Bishai, who currently heads up a tuberculosis research center at Johns Hopkins University, says he is eager to build up the basic science and educational aspects of the new institute.
The research center was formed in 2009 and is funded jointly by the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to focus on the tuberculosis and HIV epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as to train scientists in the region.
"The KwaZulu-Natal Research for Tuberculosis and HIV is an innovative and novel approach, and a bold statement that basic science can be established in sub-Saharan Africa," Bishai says. Research at K-RITH, he adds, "will feed into the on-going translational mission to bring diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines to the problems of tuberculosis and HIV that are rampant in that part of the world."
After he takes the helm in September, Bishai plans to bring the clinical problems of KwaZulu-Natal and sub-Saharan Africa to the attention of innovators around the world. "We'll be a great success if we get the problems of tuberculosis and HIV that are rampant in sub-Saharan Africa into the discussions that are going on in these technology hubs, campuses," Bishai says.
Bishai also plans to focus on developing biomarkers and diagnostics for tuberculosis, which he says may help speed up the time-consuming and expensive drug and vaccine development process. "If we had simple tools to give us early readouts on whether those drugs and vaccines were working, the clinical development projects would be accelerated," he says.
Bishai adds that he plans to keep up his own research while leading K-RITH. "I'm eager to try to lead by example," he says. With the help of UKZN and HHMI, he'll have labs at both K-RITH and Hopkins. This will also be an educational opportunity, he says. Students from South Africa will be able to train in the US and, he adds, American and European students will be able to go to "South Africa to see the magnitude of the problems they are researching."