Member Highlight

For this month’s member highlight, we’re pleased to share the work of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

South African Medical Research Council: A vibrant organization making impact in Africa and beyond

Signing ceremony with Chinese and SAMRC delegation
Signing ceremony with Chinese and SAMRC delegation. Photo Credit: SAMRC

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) is at the forefront of responding to South Africa’s evolving quadruple burden of disease. South Africa faces a cocktail of four colliding public health issues, namely: maternal, newborn and child health, HIV/AIDS and TB, non-communicable diseases, and violence and injury.

As part of the GloPID-R Network, the SAMRC enables leading researchers to collaborate with African countries experiencing global public health threats. The organization is funding research to develop rapid point-of-care (POC) diagnostic assay for Ebola virus infection. No doubt that the development of POC tests would vastly improve the rapid detection of infected patients, clinical decisions and timely implementation of containment measures and patient management. The technology, if successful, can easily be adapted for other infections responsible for international public health emergencies.

HIV/AIDS, TB and other infectious diseases

The SAMRC is at the forefront of cutting-edge research and innovation to tackle the HIV epidemic. Several leading diagnostic laboratories in Africa and developed countries are using Exatype, a SAMRC funded innovation and platform that provides rapid, accurate HIV drug resistance analysis at affordable rates for routine HIV drug resistance testing. Their research has demonstrated the effectiveness of the national program to Prevent Mother-to-Child-Transmission of HIV at six-weeks and 18 months post-delivery, and has impacted national policy. Over the past decade, they have funded ground breaking research into several aspects of HIV and AIDS. In 2016, they partnered with the P5, a public private partnership including the NIH and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) and a number of researchers to launch the world’s first HIV vaccine efficacy study in seven years at 15 research sites across the country.

Apart from several research outcomes that have influenced policy and guidelines, the SAMRC’s research informed the WHO Roadmap for Zoonotic Tuberculosis, a multisectoral guide for addressing zoonotic tuberculosis in people and bovine tuberculosis in animals.

Other exciting cross-cutting innovations and programs include the African Genomics Centre – a first for the African continent –already under construction at the SAMRC head office in Cape Town. These state-of-the-art labs launched through a partnership with Beijing Genomics Institute, a leader in genetic science and DNA sequencing, sets the course to develop personalized medicine for African populations who offer the greatest genetic diversity and opportunities to address Africa’s disease burden.

This article has been edited due to length.

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As a responsive health research organization, the SAMRC focuses on conducting and funding health research, innovation, development and research translation. Aligned to the national context, the SAMRC supports the National Department of Health, National Development Plan (NDP) Outcome 2, for “a long and healthy life for all South Africans.” Through their 11 intramural research units based at their main offices in Cape Town and regional offices in Pretoria/Johannesburg and Durban, 19 extramural research units, several collaborating centers and strategic projects and initiatives including recipients of Self-Initiated Research Grants based at several universities across the country, the SAMRC researchers are conducting and enabling research to respond to the burden of disease including disease outbreaks.

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The GloPID-R Secretariat is a project which receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101094188.