Prof Lynn Morris is the Head of HIV Virology within the Centre for HIV & STIs based at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS). She holds a joint appointment as a Research Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand and is a Research Associate at CAPRISA. Lynn completed her Bachelors of Science and Honours degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand and her DPhil at the University of Oxford after which she was awarded a Royal Society Florey Fellowship to undertake postdoctoral study in Australia. On her return to South Africa, she joined the NICD and has devoted the best part of the last twenty years to the search for an HIV vaccine.
Morris is internationally recognised for her work in understanding how the antibody response to HIV develops. The rapid mutability of the virus means that the ‘standard’ antibody response is quickly obsolete in an infected individual. Morris has been prominent in studying the rare appearance in some patients of so-called broadly neutralising antibodies which can attack a broad range of mutated viruses. This work is currently one of the most promising leads towards the production of an effective anti-HIV vaccine. She received an A-rating from the NRF in 2015 and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa that year and currently serves in leadership roles on various national and international bodies including the International Scientific Advisory Committee of the Institute of Infectious Disease & Molecular Medicine at UCT, the Poliomyelitis Research Foundation and the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise based in New York. She has received a number of awards including the Department of Science & Technology ‘Distinguished Women in Science Award’ (2013), the Wits University ‘Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award’ (2014) and the South African Medical Research Council ‘Gold Merit Award’ (2015). Lynn has a special article devoted to her work and career in the prestigious international journal, Lancet.
She plans to use the Oppenheimer Fellowship to develop a novel antibody-based approach for the prevention of HIV infection in women. This project will make use of an antibody which shows exceptional antiviral activity against HIV that she and her team, together with collaborators in the USA, isolated from an HIV-infected woman living in KwaZulu-Natal. The antibody will be genetically engineered into bacteria that naturally colonise the female genital tract, in order to provide an effective, direct and local defence against invading HIV particles. By doing so, Lynn and her team hope to develop a safe, non-invasive and durable method of delivering strongly inhibitory molecules to the anatomical site where HIV transmission usually occurs, as a female-focused and generally applicable prevention application against HIV infection.