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The HIV Pathogenesis Research Unit

The HIV Pathogenesis Research Unit is based at the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School. The unit has a well established research focus and track record in terms of postgraduate student supervision, publication outputs and ability to attract external grant funding, which is sustainable through our current activities and ongoing grant funds. The unit conducts research to increase the knowledge base of HIV-1 subtype C pathogenesis that can be translated into novel drug discovery and vaccine design.


To conduct research directly applicable to reducing new HIV-1 infections and reducing AIDS deaths in South Africa.


To develop innovative strategies through basic science and translational research for the control and cost-effective management of HIV-1 infection and AIDS in South Africa. This will be facilitated by providing a dynamic environment for postdoctorate and postgraduate scientific training.


The HPRU strategic plan is aimed at developing approaches for:

  • The effective prevention of HIV-1 infection, and encompasses several projects that Improve our basic understanding of the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (Env) function, antigenicity and immunogenicity. Design novel vaccine immunogens, particularly those that elicit an immune response capable of neutralizing a broad spectrum of HIV variants, and perform preclinical testing of candidate Env subunit vaccines.
  • The effective treatment and/or functional cure of HIV-1 infection, and encompasses several projects that Discover, develop and perform preclinical testing of novel antiviral therapeutic interventions. Develop robust innovative technologies to monitor the impact of virological factors on the development of antiretroviral drug resistance, and inform public health policy. Develop novel gene-delivery modalities together with nucleic acid therapies and expressed therapeutic antibodies to directly target the HIV infection cycle, and reactivate dormant virus from memory cells and other cellular reservoirs.

Research at the HPRU

The HIV Pathogenesis Research Program has evolved into highly specific subsets of investigation. The team has identified two broad research areas, each with several projects, which are currently being investigated and will undergo further exploitation over the next five years. The two broad research areas include:

  • Harnessing the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein for rational vaccine design.
  • Antiviral drug development, drug resistance and “functional cure”.