Researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) briefed the media on Friday on some of the organisation’s research, development and innovation (RDI) efforts aimed at addressing the HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis (TB) epidemics in South Africa.
CSIR researcher Dr Advaita Singh shed light on an innovative plant-based, highly potent anti-HIV antibodies research initiative.
“The CSIR’s plant-based anti-HIV antibodies research is aimed at developing a cost-effective pre prophylaxis vaccine which will passively immunise against HIV/AIDS, pre and post exposure. This initiative was inspired by the desire to empower young girls and women to protect themselves against the virus as studies have indicated that women are theoretically, at higher risk of HIV acquisition,” said Singh.
Working with the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), the CSIR is developing broadly neutralising antibodies against HIV-1, the most widespread human immunodeficiency virus, for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.
CSIR scientists and their research partners were able to demonstrate the ability to engineer tobacco plants to produce unique glycosylation and rare sulfation post-translational modifications, a result that is not usually seen in plants. Glycosylation is a biochemical process during which a glycan – a large carbohydrate molecule – attaches to a protein, a lipid, or another organic molecule.
The glycoengineered Nicotiana benthamiana (a relative of the tobacco plant) expressed two broadly neutralising antibodies named CAP256-VRC26 08 and CAP256-VRC26 09. These two antibodies were originally isolated by collaboration Aids research centre CAPRISA and the NICD from a South African HIV positive patient during a trial conducted by CAPRISA.
The outcome showed that the antibodies from the CAP256 lineage were the most active, with high potency and broad specificity.
“We still have a number of steps to get through, as the research process commonly requires, before this technology is available in the market, however, the CSIR and its partners intends on making it accessible to patients through an industry partner once it is ready,” added Singh.
Another technology presented by the CSIR at the media briefing aims to provide rural areas with a diagnostic assay that will test for HIV and TB simultaneously using one device in the comfort of the patient’s home.
CSIR lab technician Kanyane Malatji provided insight into a multiplex HIV and TB point-of-care diagnostic test being developed for use in remote and rural areas.
“The effective management of patients infected with HIV and TB is restricted by separate diagnoses. The situation is exacerbated in remote areas where patients must either travel long distances to reach a healthcare facility or wait a long time before obtaining their TB diagnostic results. Therefore, through our multiplex HIV and TB point-of-care diagnostic assay, we hope to mitigate these challenges with the objective of improving treatment outcomes for patients in rural areas,” said Malatji.
The locally developed diagnostic test uses a solid surface that couples the HIV and TB antigens and makes use of a locally produced fluorescence detector.
“The benefits of this technology are that it offers a cost-effective solution with a low turnaround time of approximately 2 hours. Additionally, no laboratory infrastructure is required, the device is easy to use and can be performed at point-of-care without highly trained personnel,” added Malatji.
The CSIR’s multiplex HIV and TB point-of-care diagnostic assay is funded by government and the plant-based anti-HIV antibodies research work is funded by the Department of Science and Innovation and the South African Medical Research Council.