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I am a medical virology PhD student at UCT currently conducting research on an experimental self-replicating DNA vaccine technology, which I have been developing over the last 3 years. I am currently in the process of testing this technology as a novel type of HIV vaccine but in theory, the technology can be applied for making vaccines of many types. Particular applications that require activation of the intracellular immune defense mechanisms such as cancer or parasitic infections.

I initially registered for a PhD at the end of 2013 and started in in 2014. The project I had then was to adapt a pigeon pox virus into a novel HIV vaccine vector. This was an exciting project that I worked on for a whole year learning much on the way, but only to discover in the end that due to complexities with the viral replication in cell culture that’s making a Vaccine with that virus would literally be impossible. This required me to restart again in 2015 on an entirely new project with a new novel approach. So, I started my current project, which was designed completely anew from the ground up. Since then I have explored and developed a novel method of designing a new class of self-replicating DNA vaccines and I am proud to say I have made significant and genuine progress since then developing a novel type of vaccine development technology. Last year I was able to finalise my design and DNA sequence for this. I conducted a lot of experiments on it verifying its capability and function. For many of these experiments I also had to design and develop new techniques and methodologies to test it due to the complex and novel nature of how it functions and works. These experiments have been incredibly exciting and successful.

At this stage, a huge portion of the work has been completed and I am in the process of finalizing my tissue culture experiments in mammalian cells. The final component of my research will be to test the technology in a set animal research experiments conducted in BALB/C mice. These will help me understand and measure the new vaccines capabilities and allow me to measure its ability in triggering/activating an immune response of a living immune system. Something that is absolutely critical in determining the effectiveness of this innovative technology. Sadly, while this is all coming together, the vaccine itself has in fact already been manufactured, my experimental design and application have been approved, by the animal ethics committee, who is very thorough and hard to please. The mice for the experiment have been ordered and the money to do the actual research has been allocated. Yet I the researcher, however, have completely run out of funding. This might seem ridiculous but I assure you due to the nature of how research is funded vs how students are this is my reality. I effectively have no money to live off, to pay rent, eat and survive while I work full time on my PhD.

Please help!


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