The unit currently has approximately 20 members and these include molecular biologists, medical personnel, postgraduate students and tenured university appointees.
Prof. Patrick Arbuthnot (MBBCh, PhD), Director
After graduating with a medical degree Patrick Arbuthnot completed a PhD in 1992. From 1993 to 1994, he worked as a post-doctoral researcher at Necker Hospital in Paris, and investigated development of gene therapy for treating liver cancer and hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. On returning to South Africa, he established the Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit.
Prof. Abdullah Ely (PhD), Group Leader: Gene Therapy
Abdullah Ely completed his doctoral degree in the AGTRU in 2009 where he focused on exploiting the RNA interference pathway to silence HBV replication. Since graduating, he has continued to develop novel gene therapy-based approaches to combat chronic HBV infection. In addition to his role as a researcher, he is actively involved in the training of postgraduate students.
Dr Betty Maepa (PhD), Group Leader: Viral Vectors
Betty Maepa completed her PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand where she characterised Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) ribonucleotide reductase genes as potential targets for novel anti-Mtb drugs. She then joined AGTRU where her research focuses on establishing an effective and safe means of expressing and delivering specific RNAi activating sequences with antiviral effects against HBV.
Dr Kristie Bloom (PhD), Group Leader: Next-generation Vaccines
Kristie Bloom completed her PhD at AGTRU in 2013 where she developed genome engineering agents to permanently disable HBV. As a post-doctoral researcher at the Uniklinik Freiburg, Germany, she investigated stem cell gene therapy approaches for the treatment of paediatric immunodeficiencies. Since re-joining AGTRU, her research has focused on developing anti-HBV gene therapies and mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases.
Dr Kuben Naidoo (PhD), Group Leader: Infectious Disease Proteomics
Kubendran graduated with his PhD in 2012, where his research involved the characterization of a protein involved in membrane biogenesis and energy production during the development of the malaria parasite. He joined AGTRU in 2017 to focus on host-pathogen protein interactions.
Gladys Gagliardi (Dip.MedTech/ClinPath), Lab Manager
Gladys Gagliardi joined the Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology in 1992. After leading student teaching-related activities for 10 years, she joined the AGTRU team. She has been instrumental in setting up experimental procedures involving cultured cells and mice to model HBV replication, and is responsible for procurement, financial administration and occupational health and safety.
Postgraduate Students: PhD, MSc, BSc Honours
PhD Candidates: Tiffany Smith, Njabulo Mnyandu, Prashika Singh, Shonisani Limani, Ridhwaanah Jacobs. MSc Candidates: Dylan Kairuz, Nazia Samudh, Creanne Shrilall BSc Honours Candidates: Tasneem Farhad, Keila Neves
Honorary Team Members
Dr Marco Weinberg (PhD)
Marco Weinberg is currently an Assistant Professor at the Scripps Research Institute in California, USA. His research encompasses the study of large and small non-coding RNA (ncRNA) and their role in gene regulation and gene therapy.
Simon Waddington is an Honorary Professor at the Wits/SAMRC AGTRU. His research at the Gene Transfer Technology Group of the Institute for Women’s Health, University College London, focuses on gene therapy approaches for inherited genetic diseases as well as preclinical models of gene and stem cell transfer.