Welcome to the Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit (AGTRU) of the University of the Witwatersrand and South African Medical Research Council (SA MRC).
Investigation by the AGTRU team is focused on countering viral infections that cause serious health problems in South Africa. The long term objectives of AGTRU are to
Discovery of the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway and advances in the engineering of sequence-specific nucleases have provided the means for powerful and specific disabling of genes. These advances led to considerable enthusiasm for use of gene therapy to counter viral infections, such as are caused by persistence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). The focus of the AGTRU has been on optimising use of RNAi activators and transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) to inhibit viral proliferation. Development of suitable vectors for delivery of antiviral sequences to infected cells is also an active field of investigation within the unit.
Research activities are generously supported by South African and International funding agencies. South African and international partnerships have been established, and these are an important contributor to the group’s resource base.
The unit currently has approximately 20 members and these include molecular biologists, clinicians and postgraduate students. There are four tenured university appointees in the unit and the director is Professor Patrick Arbuthnot. AGTRU is equipped as a modern molecular biology research laboratory and has expertise in a range of techniques. These are advanced methods of nucleic acid manipulation, gene transfer to mammalian cells, use of lipoplex and recombinant viral vectors. AGTRU is set up to investigate efficacy of antiviral compounds in vivo in murine (e.g. HBV transgenic mice) and cell culture models of viral replication.