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Legacy Grants

HIV research and education in Durban, South Africa

HIV research and education in Durban, Africa

I've been doing Immunology Research since I was fifteen. Over the past seven years I've rotated in labs at Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts General Hospital, Stanford, The Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, The Broad Institute, The Ragon Institute, The Koch Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. So when the BC Legacy Grant made it possible to collaborate with researchers at Kwazulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) in collaboration with the FRESH project, I jumped at the chance!

The FRESH program provides women in the Umlazi Township (just outside of Durban, South Africa) with an intensive empowerment, life-skills, and job readiness curriculum that attempts to address the poverty that puts them at risk of HIV. Additionally, FRESH program participants are monitored through regular blood samples for early detection. This allows researchers the rare opportunity to study the earliest stages of an HIV infection.

In part, I went to Durban to do laboratory research. I'm proud to say that we accomplished a lot during my trip, but there is still much more to do and my collaboration with the lab is ongoing. I also went to Durban to teach. I taught scientists at K-RITH how to use the unpublished high-throughput technologies developed in our lab. In the months since I left K-RITH, these technologies (both experimental and computational) have allowed researchers in Durban to gain unique insights into the mechanics of early HIV infection. It is my sincere hope that this line of inquiry will continue to bring the global scientific community closer to a cure. 

Through the inspirational people I met at K-RITH and the generous support of the Legacy Grant, I have come to appreciate the humanity of medicine. Specifically, that it isn’t about egos or power or even about knowledge—it's about people helping other people.   

Riley Drake '16

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