Institute for Infectious
Disease and Molecular Medicine
The University of Cape Town’s Institute for Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine
(IIDMM) aims to be a premier postgraduate research training facility for African biomedical
students. The Institute’s research is focused on combating the most serious threats to health
and overall prosperity in the region: infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS and TB and non-
communicable diseases, and locally prevalent cancers and genetic disorders. Its mission
is to create a vibrant environment of shared laboratories, facilities and expertise in which
excellence is pursued by scientists of international stature.
those kids that are brought into the trauma unit as it is brightly coloured and is painted in a friendly child-like way. Tamara Utian, Events Co-ordinator, Discovery
The intellectual frontline
Sometimes structures are just structures. We fail
to notice them. We move through them and pass
by them without a second thought. They stand
there dutifully, in all their concrete dullness failing
to affirm a thing. But once in a while a building
leaps out to greet us, waking us up and reminding
us that every bit of space and time matters.
This is the thought that leaps to mind one bright blue morning in Cape
Town as we approach the building that houses the Institute for Infectious
Disease and Molecular Medicine (IIDMM): the idea that you can read
human intention through the structures that we build, that our dreams,
longings and beliefs are encoded into the architecture around us.
‘Building’ seems like a stolid word for this enlightening capsule of
transparency. There is something space age about this heady, dreamy
construction. A structure that speaks of aspiration, abstract pursuits,
futurism and hope, it is the perfect home for the IIDMM, an initiative aimed
at developing the highest calibre of scientific research capacity in a multi-
Designed by Gabriel Fagan Architects in association with MLH Architects
and Planners, and completed in early 2005, the IIDMM building is the
result of a R45.2 million building project to convert the two oldest buildings
on the world-famous mountainside campus of UCT (adjacent to Groote
Schuur hospital) into a single complex of over 8 000 square metres. The
magnificent Wolfson Pavilion now links the two three-story wings, providing
spaces for ideas mixing – meeting rooms, a cafeteria, a reading room
and seminar room. There’s even a state-of-the-art mouse-breeding facility
located in the basement of the south wing.
A deeply inspiring environment, ideal for challenging minds to their most
inventive and searching capacities, it’s a perfect marriage of form and
content. The Institute housed in this building aims to sustain an environment
of high calibre productivity that will attract international researchers and
secure a future for Africa’s promising new generation of scientists, from
an integrated basic science, clinical and public health perspective.
I joined the Marketing Services Department as a copywriter in June 2004 and almost immediately started writing for Discovery CSI. I got my first taste
The Institute’s focus is on the most serious infectious diseases affecting Far from being an ivory tower, the Institute is firmly committed to applied
the poor in South Africa. clinical research, which takes place at field research sites in and around
Bearing in mind that the medical challenges facing Africa are among the The Institute links basic investigations with applied science and technology new and effective tuberculosis vaccines and contribute to a reduction of ways – from the lab to the clinic, from the bench to the patient, from the
most extreme in the world, directly stifling economic and social development, in the form of vaccine generation and drug development, including the use the burden of tuberculosis.Far from being an ivory tower, the Institute is patient to bench and from the clinic to the lab,’ explains Professor Hussey.
the initiative is based on the premise that we must have local research of indigenous knowledge. Consisting of between 23 and 26 groups focused firmly committed to applied clinical research, which takes place at research ‘It’s not only about getting it to the patient, but out into the community. [We
capacity to devise appropriate responses to the continent’s most pressing on a number of interlinked programmes, it is fast becoming a powerhouse sites in and around Cape Town. Although the work done on campus ask ourselves] how do we translate a discovery that is made in the lab to
health problems. of relevant, cutting-edge biomedical research. happens mainly in laboratories, the clinical research work gets done the individual patient and how do we translate a discovery from the individual
elsewhere – up the road at Groote Schuur, at Red Cross Children’s Hospital patient to the community at large? We then take that forward from the level
‘Already very poor – the continent contributes only two percent of the ‘Our focus is on infectious diseases, like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria,
or at other secondary hospitals around the Peninsula, like GF Jooste of a community benefiting to a policy issue that will reflect on the country
world’s GNP – it is clear that focused and sustainable interventions to as well as other common problems that are non-infectious, like cancers…
Hospital, in Manenberg on the Cape Flats. as part of the continent and the world at large. We translate it from the lab
promote health and combat disease are becoming increasingly critical if We have, for example, a group looking at vaccines to prevent cervical
to the clinic and when we find that it works in the clinic we translate it into
the situation is to improve,’ reads the IIDMM website <www.iidmm.uct.ac.za>. cancer,’ says IIDMM Director Professor Gregory Hussey (see above right). SATVI’s administrative offices and research laboratory are, for example,
policy and practice. It’s a process. It’s not static.’
‘There’s another group investigating genetic disorders. In the molecular located within the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine
‘While medical research and training occurs at many African universities, sciences we have a big group looking at immunology – how cells function, at the University of Cape Town. But its field project office and dedicated The Institute is a hive of interactive activities supported by centralised
few institutions in sub-Saharan Africa have sufficient resources and critical how we can prevent diseases at a molecular level…’ research ward are located at the Brewelskloof TB hospital in Worcester. facilities and an extensive flow to and from other research programmes
mass to make a significant impact. The diseases faced by Africa are of The clinical field site, from which participants are enrolled, spans the entire (clinical, public health and basic) of the Faculty of Health Sciences, as well
direct concern to the global community, since most of Africa's health burden In addition to being the Institute’s director, Professor Hussey heads up its
Boland-Overberg region of the Western Cape, a poor rural area of about as the Faculties of Science and Engineering and the Built Environment.
is infectious in nature. South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), launched in early 2000.
12 000 square kilometers with a population of 350 000. TB is extremely
Despite the availability of effective therapy, tuberculosis remains a leading Passionately pioneering in what they do, its members and affiliates are at
common there: the incidence of new smear-positive TB cases in adults in
‘Yet the commitment of wealthier economies to solving African problems cause of death in adults in South Africa, one of the top 10 high burden TB the frontline of medical research in South Africa. America has the Rockefeller
2002 was 571/100 000 population, while the rate of TB in infants and
will always be subject to fluctuations in economic and political agendas; countries of the world. The situation is worsening as a consequence of the Institute, France has the Pasteur Institute, Israel has the Weizmann Institute
young children was in excess of one percent. The HIV seroprevalence rate
thus those with the greatest incentive to address such problems will always exploding HIV epidemic and the development of multi-drug resistant TB and India has the National Centre for Biological Studies. Now South Africans
in women attending antenatal clinics is about eight percent.
be Africans themselves. A clear need exists greatly to expand African vaccines to prevent tuberculosis is urgently required to reduce the morbidity can proudly say we have the Institute for Infectious Disease and Molecular
capacity and expertise to address African medical problems.’ and mortality associated with this scourge. SATVI’s mission is to develop ‘A lot of our work is what we call “translational research”, which works both Medicine at UCT.
of volunteering when my department adopted the Zaziwe Hope for Life Hospice in Jeppestown, where I helped to paint and decorate a room for
‘Although, at the moment, genetics is a bit like CHARISMATIC: (top) Head of the
Division of Human Genetics Professor
Rajkumar Ramesar has the rare ability
‘Cinderella before she went to the ball, it is a to explain complex scientific ideas in
everyman s terms, shedding light on a
‘phenomenally exciting discipline that is going subject fraught with misconceptions.
A major aspect of the unit s agenda is
‘to change medicine.’ Professor Rajkumar Ramesar
the identification of genes underlying
disease in South African populations
GROWING FIELD: (above and right) The
numbers of registered postgraduate
students in the Division of Human
Genetics at UCT is unprecedented.
A supportive environment has led to
five postdoctoral researchers being
accommodated and developed within
the research facility