CIDRI-Africa’s sixth Annual Scientific Meeting convened at Le Franschhoek Hotel & Spa on the 20 and 21st of July 2023. Centre Director Professor Robert J Wilkinson opened the meeting by welcoming attendees and celebrating the achievements of junior investigators.
There was much to celebrate during the meeting, including the graduation on Friday the 21st of July of Drs Mthawelanga Ndengane and Robyn Waters, formerly PhD students associated with the Centre, the birthdays of Associate Professors Anna Coussens and Reto Guler, and the award of a Wellcome Discovery Platform in Science grant that will ensure continuation of the infrastructure and relationships built by CIDRI-Africa.
Positive growth of the research enterprise was a common thread throughout the meeting; of note, CIDRI-Africa has catalysed the development of a core microscopy facility at the University of Cape Town unrivalled in Africa (if not globally). In addition, our Biomedical Data Integration Platform investigators are strongly linked to provincial-scale health data analysis programmes such as the Provincial Health Data Centre and the Cape Town Surveillance through Healthcare Action Research Project (C-SHARP) a node of the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network. The Clinical Platform has expanded reach into the Eastern Cape province with a strategically valuable site under development, and continues to develop capacity and relationships with public health facilities in Cape Town. Our public engagement partner Eh!Woza reported quadrupled enrolment in their programmes following their move to the Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha, and expansion of the range of topics they will cover during their workshops to include TB, HIV, sex and relationship education, cancer, mental health and climate change.
Meeting participants raised the matter of the creation and maintenance of sustainable career paths for technical and support staff, a long-standing local and international concern. Participants suggested the institution of “user fees”, which could be budgeted in grant applications, to support both facilities and the associated staff. Efforts to raise awareness of available equipment and facilities across the Faculty of Health Sciences (and potentially university-wide) would help to consolidate institutional resources and increase demand (to view an interactive network of all equipment operated as IDM core facilities and those owned by IDM members which are available for use by others, visit https://idm.uct.ac.za/facilities/equipment).
Day 2 of the Annual Scientific Meeting focussed on the future through the lens of presentations given by our PhD students, Early Career Researchers, and Investigators. This encompasses work from the microscopic level of the genome to the macro level of society, including research on pharmacokinetics and -genomics, genome-wide analysis, B cells, analysis of the TB disease spectrum in human tissue, non-communicable disease interaction with infectious disease, microbiome influence on vaccine immunogenicity, and antibiotic prescribing as a socially-encoded behaviour.
While the Centre will transition away from the “Wellcome Centre” brand over the coming year, it will remain a University of Cape Town Research Committee-accredited entity, retaining the CIDRI-Africa acronym as the “Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa”. The Centre will host the Wellcome-funded Discovery Research Platform for Infection which will continue the excellent work established during our time as a Wellcome Centre.