His work in the field of TB has won Prof Keertan Dheda, head of UCT’s Divison of Pulmonology, a prestigious international research prize.Leading tuberculosis (TB) researcher Professor Keertan Dheda, head of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Division of Pulmonology, has been awarded the 2018 Scientific Leadership prize by the prestigious European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), funded by the European Union.
Dheda, current president of the South African Thoracic Society, has been quoted as saying that his interest in TB was first sparked when he began working as an intern at King Edward Vlll Hospital in Durban after graduating from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1992.
Dismayed by the high number of deaths of TB patients, and the inadequate diagnostic tools and available treatment regimens, he became part of a long line of pulmonologists and their associated professional societies leading the fight against the disease.
At the end of 2017, when he received an A rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF), Dheda said his laboratory was working on several innovative new technologies, including “a new urine-based TB diagnostic test, a next generation electronic lateral flow assay device, and a new pleural biopsy device”.
One example of Dheda’s significant influence can be found in the improved diagnosis of TB among hospitalised patients with advanced HIV across Africa. Performing a multicentric study in four countries involving more than 2 500 patients, he headed up a team of researchers who evaluated a new user-friendly urine-based diagnostic test (urine LAM).
“We showed that the urine LAM-guided treatment strategy reduced mortality in hospitalised patients with advanced HIV by almost 20% (Lancet, 2016), and these findings underpinned the WHO guidelines on TB testing in HIV-infected persons,“ he explained.
In other work, he and his team defined how newer frontline molecular TB tools should be used for on-site diagnosis in clinics (Lancet, 2014), and for active case finding in the community (Lancet Infectious Diseases, 2017).
TB is the biggest historical killer of mankind, with over a billion deaths over the last two centuries, and is now the most common single cause of death in South Africa.
The other three prize winners are:
- Professor Souleymane Mboup (Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy (University of Chikh Anta Diop, Senegal), a pioneer in HIV research in Africa, who won the Pascoal Mocumbi Prize.
- The CHAPAS studies team (Children with HIV in Africa – Pharmacokinetics and Acceptability of Simple antiretroviral regimens), winners of the Outstanding Research Team prize.
- Professor Gita Ramjee, chief specialist scientist and director of the HIV Prevention Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council, who won the Outstanding Female Scientist prize.