Ever heard of leukapheresis? This is a procedure that provides an opportunity to safely and selectively obtain large amounts of leukocytes from a donor.
The blood is passed through a machine which removes the white blood cells (leukocytes) and returns all the other components, such as such as red blood cells and plasma, back into the bloodstream. This allows minimal loss of such components.
The IMMUNE BASELINE (IMMBASE) study was recently launched by the HIV Pathogenesis Programme to use this technique to obtain white blood cells for studying the rare cells that can respond to upcoming HIV vaccines. It is a sub-study within the Females Rising with Education, Support, and Health (FRESH) study which has been conducting leukapheresis to inform HIV cure strategies. The amazing participants for the IMMBASE study are willing to donate their time, energy and samples to advance science, eradicate disease and make their communities a better place. These are our unsung heroes and heroines.
The primary aim of this study is to check if South Africans have the rare cells that can respond to a new class of upcoming HIV vaccines called germline targeting vaccines. This information will guide the testing and eventual rolling out of such vaccines in the populations that are most likely to benefit from them. The information will also guide the refinement of these vaccines so that they can work better in this region. The study will also explore if environmental exposures are likely to influence responsiveness to the vaccines. According to one of the study’s co-investigators, Dr Daniel Muema: ‘For HIV vaccines, we will think global but act local.’
The IMMBASE study will collect leukapheresis samples at only one timepoint from 30 participants. In addition, there will be standard venous blood draws from a hundred other participants for confirmatory experiments. This study will be conducted in the Umlazi township of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It will utilise the existing infrastructure of the FRESH study to recruit participants who will then be screened at the HPP Clinic based at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital. Working in partnership with highly experienced, trained South African National Blood Service (SANBS) staff and a medical doctor, the leukapheresis procedure will take place at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital.
Photograph: FRESH Clinic