Science made seriously sexy: Mopo Leshwedi-Radebe

2012-07-28 16:04

Leshwedi-Radebe works at the coalface of the HIV/Aids epidemic in South Africa, trying to understand what happens in the early months of infection and why certain patients react in different ways. She is investigating why the virus is not as aggressive in some people.

“Some have to go on antiretrovirals the first year they are infected, others only after 10 years,” she says. “If we can understand why, we can work on a vaccine.”

The secret for the “lucky” patients or “HIV controllers” lies in bodies which are able to fight off full-blown Aids for many years.

Scientists have identified a genome that determines how individuals fight the disease and Leshwedi-Radebe’s research centres on that, focusing on the genetic make-up of South Africans.

“Some individuals have genetic ‘guns’ that are more likely to shoot and cripple the virus, and slow it down. Other patients just don’t ‘shoot’ that well and the virus quickly gets a foothold in their immune system,” she explains.

She recruits her patients from local hospitals. Her studies have found that each person leaves its own genetic “fingerprint” on the virus, when they transmit it to someone else.

“You can actually determine from whom the virus came by looking at the genetics,” she says.

She says she fell in love with science at a very young age and wanted to dedicate her life to it.

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