Q&A with Dr. Thumbi Ndung’u

Thumbi-Ndung'uThough he is now an Associate Professor in HIV/AIDS Research at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, as well as the Scientific Director of the HIV Pathogenesis Programme at the Doris Duke Medical Research Institute at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, not so long ago Thumbi Ndung’u was a graduate student working with Max Essex at the Harvard AIDS Initiative.
He earned his PhD from Harvard in 2001, receiving the Haber Award in recognition of his “outstanding, original and creative thesis work that makes a fundamental contribution to our understanding of a biological problem important to public health.” After graduation he returned to Africa to work as a Research Scientist and the Laboratory Director at the Botswana–Harvard Partnership. He currently works in KwaZulu Natal, where approximately 40% of women reporting to antenatal clinics are HIV positive. His research focuses on HIV pathogenesis, host genetics, viral factors, and immune responses.
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A Day in the Life of a Graduate Student

Kim at work in the lab
Kim at work in the lab

The development of expertise requires sustained periods of practice. 10,000 hours is often cited as the amount of time necessary to achieve expert status. By that standard, Kim Armstrong, a graduate student in the lab of Max Essex at the Harvard AIDS Initiative, recently became an expert in HIV research. By her estimate, she has spent approximately 10,500 hours at her lab bench studying how drug resistance mutations affect the viral fitness of HIV. Continue reading

New Findings on Drug Resistance

Testing for drug resistance increases treatment costs photo by Richard Feldman
Testing for drug resistance increases treatment costs photo by Richard Feldman

The “Big Three” diseases of Africa are HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB. To date, we haven’t developed a successful vaccine for any of them, which means that drugs are of enormous importance in controlling the epidemics. For malaria and TB, the spread of drug resistant strains has wreaked public health havoc, restricting our ability to control and eliminate the diseases. Continue reading

A Day in the Life of a Graduate Student – expanded

It’s no secret that graduate students spend many hours each day in the lab, doing the exacting labor of research science, but what exactly are they doing in there? To answer that question, we shadowed Kim Armstrong, a student in the laboratory of Max Essex. Continue reading

HAI Friends Trip to Botswana

The 2008 Friends Trip participants in Gaborone, Botswana photo by Dave CLiff
The 2008 Friends Trip participants in Gaborone, Botswana photo by Dave CLiff

Though dinner with President Festus Mogae was one of the highlights of the 2008 Friends Trip to Botswana, several travelers cited the small meetings with participants in the Botswana-Harvard Partnership’s (BHP) clinical trials as the most valuable experience. Continue reading

Interview with Irene Kiwelu

Ireen Kiwelu (right)Ireen Kiwelu is a Fogarty Fellow conducting research in the Essex Lab at the Harvard School of Public Health. Born in Moshi, Tanzania, at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, she was educated in Tanzania, Denmark, England and Norway. She returned to her hometown to work as a Senior Research Scientist at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center. Continue reading

Study on Deaths Due to AIDS Policy in South Africa Makes Front Page News

A Johannesburg AIDS hospice in 2002. From 2000 to 2005, few South Africans got the AIDS drugs they needed, a study found. Photo Joao Silva for The New York Times
A Johannesburg AIDS hospice in 2002. From 2000 to 2005, few South Africans got the AIDS drugs they needed, a study found. Photo Joao Silva for The New York Times

“Study Cites Toll of AIDS Policy in South Africa” was the front-page headline of The New York Times on November 25th. “A new study by Harvard researchers estimates that the South African government would have prevented the premature deaths of 365,000 people earlier this decade if it had provided antiretroviral drugs to AIDS patients and widely administered drugs to help prevent pregnant women from infecting their babies.” Continue reading

Maurice Tempelsman Receives HAI Leadership Award

Maurice Tempelsman (left) receives the HAI Leadership Award from Max Essex.
Maurice Tempelsman (left) receives the HAI Leadership Award from Max Essex.

The Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative honored Maurice Tempelsman with its Leadership Award at a dinner at the Knickerbocker Club in New York on January 15th. The HAI Leadership Award is presented to individuals who have displayed outstanding vision, leadership, and courage in the worldwide struggle against AIDS. Continue reading

Kelesitse Phiri: Examining Pediatric AIDS in Botswana

Kelesitste Phiri

Oddly enough, Kelesitse Phiri learned about the enormity of the AIDS epidemic in her native Botswana when she was studying at Bryn Mawr College in suburban Philadelphia. The year was 2000. That June UNAIDS released figures showing that Botswana’s adult HIV prevalence at the end of 1999 was 35.8%, the highest in the world.
“At that time, people back home didn’t talk about HIV or that somebody had died of AIDS, but more and more we were hearing about it in the global news. At school people were coming up to me and saying ‘What’s going on in your country?’” Kele, as her friends and colleagues call her, began wondering how the infection rate could be so high in her country, one of the most developed in Africa. To learn more, she enrolled in a course called “The Sociology of AIDS.”  It was a decision that changed her life. Continue reading