210. Kwon Lab, Durban, South Africa

The Kwon Laboratory is focused on applying new technologies to the study of immune responses against HIV at mucosal surfaces. Our group in South Africa performs translational research utilizing patient samples from the well-characterized FRESH (Females Rising through Education, Support, and Health) cohort to better understand viral, metagenomic, and adaptive immune factors important for HIV immunity and pathogenesis in the female genital tract.

In South Africa, the student will partner with our collaborators in the clinic at the FRESH study site and in the laboratory at the HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP) at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine. FRESH is a longitudinal study designed to analyze HIV risk factors, incidence, and early infection in young African women while concurrently engaging participants in an intensive life skills and job readiness curriculum. We obtain blood and mucosal samples, which are processed by the staff at HPP, located at the School of Medicine of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) in Durban, South Africa.

Website:  http://kwonlab.mgh.harvard.edu/, http://www.ragoninstitute.org/international/fresh

Summer Project:

The student will work closely with a team of researchers in our lab (the “FGT (female genital tract) Team”) to study the impact of the microbiome and other mucosal immune factors that impact HIV risk in young women in South Africa. This project continues on work we have recently published (Anahtar et al, Immunity 2015; Gosmann et al, Immunity 2016) that demonstrates that cervicovaginal bacteria can have a significant impact on the immune system in the FGT and that this can modulate the risk of acquiring HIV. The project will involve translational bench and computational work, as well as behavioral data collection and management. The student would be expected to complete an initial training at the Ragon Institute in Cambridge, MA prior to beginning work at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, South Africa.

By the end of the internship, we expect students will have acquired an understanding of the following: basic immunology and HIV pathogenesis; the critical role of mucosal tissues in HIV transmission and disease progression; laboratory methods used for patient-based studies of cellular immunology, the microbiome, metagenomics, and transcriptional profiling; and the impact of HIV on the lives of patients in developed and developing regions.


  1. Process HIV negative and HIV positive biological samples including blood donations and female genital tract samples
  2. Perform and assist with experiments primarily focused on flow cytometry, cell sorting, and microbiome analysis
  3. Provide support to the study clinic staff including data entry, management, and quality control
  4. Work closely with the team and with outside collaborators to maintain project progress
  5. Participate in lab meetings, journal clubs, and team meetings


Prior research and/or laboratory experience is strongly preferred. For placement in South Africa, an individual will need to be highly motivated with an ability to work independently. We will provide training in the applicable laboratory techniques, but it will be necessary to complete this initial training at the Ragon Institute prior to the program start date in South Africa.


On a scale from 0 (very independent) to 10 (very supervised), this internship will be about a 6.

Work Environment:

The intern will work alongside a dynamic group of 15 other lab members within an institute of 170 personnel. We are located in the neighborhood of Kendall Square in Cambridge, and we work with collaborators across the Boston area. The intern will meet regularly with the PI and work closely with grad student/postdocs in the lab, and particularly within a smaller FGT immunology subgroup.

Brief description from the Summer 2017 Fellow:

“My name is Alexander, and I'm a rising senior studying applied mathematics. This summer, I'm doing computational biology research in HIV immunology as a part of the Kwon Lab. I'm traveling to Durban, South Africa where the lab collaborates with an HIV prevention and support clinic. I'm also developing a markov-chain algorithm to model the dynamics of microbiotal populations longitudinally in the female genital tract. Because certain female genital tract microbiotal populations increase women's predisposition to HIV acquisition, this model could predict the efficacy of microbiotal adjustment.” –Alexander Munoz

Click here for instructions on how to apply.

See also: See All, ISURGH, Africa