Mr Katlego Sojane.

UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences PhD student in the HIV Pathogenesis Programme, Mr Katlego Sojane, is conducting a study in the area of cryptococcal meningitis.

The study aims to test whether increased inflammation exacerbates viral genotypic compartmentalisation or disruption of the BBB results in equilibration of genetic variants between the CNS and peripheral blood in HIV-Cryptococcus neoformans co-infected individuals.

The study was titled: “Cryptococcal Meningitis/HIV Co-Infection” is characterised by Viral Genotypic Intermixing between the Cerebrospinal Fluid and Blood Compartments and Predominance of CCR5-Tropic Variants.

Sojane said his work aimed to examine the genetic and functional properties of HIV subtype C resident in matched blood and the cerebrospinal fluid.

‘Cryptococcal meningitis (CM) is the leading cause of adult meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa and approximately 10-20% of HIV-related deaths are due to CM. We are studying the genetic and functional properties of HIV in people living with HIV-CM co-infection. By the end of the study, we expect to understand better how HIV and Cryptococcus neoformans work together to cause disease,’ he said.

According to Sojane, an HIV vaccine is needed to curtail the number of new infections and to control the HIV epidemic but it remains elusive.

‘Our studies will contribute to the understanding of HIV pathogenesis for vaccine design strategies or optimising treatments with regimens available currently,’ he added.

He believes their research is cutting-edge, incorporating assays that were recently developed and reliable enough to use for answering the study questions they posed.

‘It has given insight into the properties of HIV from peripheral blood and the central nervous system which will be important for the formulation of diagnostic tools and treatment strategy for individuals living with HIV and cryptococcal meningitis,’ said Sojane. 

The study is being conducted at the Doris Duke Medical Research Institute, UZKN Medical School campus with study participants enrolled from King Edward VIII Hospital.

The research is ongoing and Sojane said recommendations would be made at the conclusion of the work.

Sojane and his group of researchers believe this study will improve the understanding of HIV disease progression so that people will be better informed about how to manage their health if they do get infected.

‘Also, for those living with HIV, interventions to improve the quality and span of their life will be made from the contributions of our research.’

He is currently preparing lectures for undergraduate students in Medical Biochemistry as well as working on his PhD degree.

‘I would like to do some journalism within science and be able to report and teach concepts to individuals who want to learn science without all the complicated jargon.’

Johannesburg-born Sojane loves sport and is an Orlando Pirates fan. ‘I am a basketball lover and sneaker collector. I do long distance runs for fun and to maintain good health. My other interests are in philosophy and psychology.’

Nombuso Dlamini