KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform (KRISP) Established

The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and UKZN have signed an agreement for the establishment of KRISP - the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira and right is the view from Vital-IT and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics campus in Lausanne, Switzerland, which KRISP team recently to visited to set-up collaborations and learn more about their successful business planProfessor Tulio de Oliveira and right is the view from Vital-IT and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics campus in Lausanne, Switzerland, which KRISP team recently to visited to set-up collaborations and learn more about their successful business plan.

This signed agreement with TIA takes the omics/informatics facility to new levels.

KRISP, the result of hard work by, among others, Professor Tulio de Oliveira, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath and Professor Salim Abdool Karim, was previously known as the Genomics and Bioinformatics Centre.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences, Professor Rob Slotow, said KRISP is one of many exciting research projects driven by de Oliviera.

De Oliveira is a full Professor at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine at UKZN and a Research Associate at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA). Recognised as an expert on HIV genetic data and bioinformatics software development, he received his PhD at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in 2003, was a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom in 2006, and has recently been awarded a Royal Society Newton Advanced Fellowship.

In total, he has published more than 100 manuscripts, and developed dozens of bioinformatics software applications and databases. De Oliveira leads a group of 18 researchers and/or postgraduate students.

The concept for KRISP started in discussions with the executives of UKZN, CAPRISA, TIA and the Department of Science and Technology, funded by the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR) DIPLOMICS programme.

'We decided that it was wise to build KRISP on our strength in genomics, epidemiology and bioinformatics and to use our existing facilities at the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences in the College of Health Sciences to host it,' said de Oliveira.

The vision of KRISP is to produce and analyse omics data at the same speed and quality as the top genomics centres in the world. This will produce cutting-edge research, support industrial development and capacitate the next generation of scientists in South Africa.

A critical function of KRISP will be to enable and facilitate access to genomics, epigenetics and bioinformatics technology to a broader community of users who might not otherwise pursue these technologies or use alternative international resources. KRISP aims at creating, in collaboration with TIA, a professionally run and accredited service component that is available for academic, commercial and industrial clients.

This agreement will see TIA providing R5 million a year for the core of the facility, but there is now opportunity to leverage additional funding for flagship projects, including a flagship programme from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). The SAMRC Flagship programme has been very successful - it has published 60 manuscripts, graduated nine MScs and PhD students and trained 1 150 participants as part of capacity building workshops in the last three years. KRISP is now looking for opportunities to collaborate with key stakeholders and funders to identify new flagship programmes that can generate similar scientific and capacity building output.

'We are very passionate about training and capacity building. For example, in the last three years, we have organised 16 workshops during which 1 150 individuals were trained. As part of KRISP, we will continue and expand our training programme. We also expect to graduate more PhDs and MScs in order to create the scientific leaders of tomorrow,' said de Oliviera.

Director of CAPRISA Professor Salim Abdool Karim has been crucial in the planning processes and will act as chair of the board.

KRISP has thanked SAMRC for its support and look forward to a very positive interaction in the future.

'A big thank you to everyone who worked hard towards the establishment of KRISP. I am very glad to see this has happened and we will work very hard to become a success history,' added de Oliveira

In order to transform our plans in reality, we had the support of many individuals and organizations in South Africa and abroad.

We would like to acknowledge the great support received from UKZN Executives. Prof. Rob Slotow (DVC of CHS), Prof. Deresh Ramjugernath (DVC Research), Prof. Musa Mabandla (Dean LMMS) and Prof. Albert Van Jaarsveld (VC).

We also would like to acknowledge the TIA executives, Dr. Barlow Manilal (CEO), Dr. Tim Newman and Dr. Mohohlo Molatudi, who have met with us in many occasions and provided a critical review of our plans and vision.

Prof. Salim Abdool Karim (Director CAPRISA) has also been crucial in the planning processes. We are also very honored that Prof. Karim has also accepted to chair our advisory board. Many other members of CAPRISA have also supported our plans, we would like to thank Prof. Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Dr. Kogie Naidoo, Prof. Ayesha Kharsany, Prof. Lynn Morris, Dr. Nesri Padayatchi, Dr. Nigel Garrett, Dr. Cheryl Baxter, Mr. Nasrin Amla, Ms Natasha Samsunder and Ms. Norma Hatcher.

The CPGR and the DST DIPLOMICS team (Dr. Reinhard Hiller, Dr. Judith Hornby, Dr. Dries Oelofse, Dr. Busiswa Kekana and Dr. Lindsay Petersen) have also been very important in our planning and, now, will be also very important for our implementation plans. It is important to note that Dr. Hiller is also taking a position in our governance board.

The SAMRC, in addition to funding our Flagship programme, have also officially accepted to take a position in our board of governance, we would like to really thank the SAMRC for all of their support in the past and we look forward to a very positive interaction in the future. We would like to acknowledge the support of Prof. Glenda Gray, Dr. Niresh Bhagwandin, Ms. Arlene Smith and Dr. Rizwana Mia.

We also have a special thanks to Global Labs (Dr. Lorna Madurai) and NHLS (Prof. Pravi Moodley and Dr. Reshmi Samuel). They are very important partners and provide some of our best models for running a well-functioning and accredited laboratory.

We also got support from AHRI, including Prof. Deenan Pillay, Prof. Alan Aderem, Prof. Thumbi Ndung'u and Mr. Brendan Gilbert. We look forward for a continuing and positive partnership.

We also received key support and guidance from Prof. Nicola Mulder and Prof. Carolyn Williamson from UCT.

Other key supporters from UKZN, some who will be faculty in KRISP, included, Prof. Fernando Albericio, Prof. Sabiha Yusuf Essack, Dr. Michelle Gordon, Dr. Veron Ramsuran, Prof. Beatriz Garcia De La Torre, Dr. Richard Lessells, Prof. Frank Tanser, Ms. Keshni Hiramen and Prof. Yunus Moosa. We cannot forget our very hard working Researchers and Post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Alain Vandormael, Dr. Andrew Tomita, Dr. Tiago Graft, Dr. Marcel Tongo Passo, Dr. Eduan Wilkinson, Dr. Jennifer Giandhari, Dr. Werner Smidt, without you keeping the science going we would never have been so productive!

We also want to thank to our fantastic financial and operational support group, including Ms. Nicolette Croizer, Ms. Suzette Grobler, Mr. Helgaard Holtzhausen, Mr. Bonginhlanhla Ernest Mbambo, Prof. Fanie Botha, Dr. Mark Tufts and Ms Metse Serumula. Lastly but not the least, we would like to thank all of our UKZN students and staff for the patience and encouragement during this process.

Our main international partners that supported this initiative were: Prof. Ioannis Xenarios (Member of our advisory board and director of the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) and Vital-IT), Prof. Anne-Mieke Vandamme (Leuven Kathoelic University, Belgium), Prof. Robert Shafer (Stanford University), Prof. Mary Carrington (NIH), Prof. Jim Mullins and Dr. Josh Herbeck (University of Washington), Prof. Luiz Alcantara (FioCruz, Brazil) and Prof. Per I. Arvidsson (SciLifeLab, Sweden).

Words by: Lihle Sosibo

News date: 2017-07-12