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Thesla Palanee-Phillips

Director: Clinical Trials, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, University of the Witwatersrand

Dr Thesla Palanee-Phillips obtained a Master’s degree in Medical Science cum laude in December 1998 and obtained her PhD in Physiology/Biochemistry in November 2004 from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine. She gained post-doctoral experience in the Department of Molecular Virology and Bioinformatics at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies based at the UKZN. In 2012, she was awarded a Commonwealth Commission Scholarship to pursue a distance learning MSc in Clinical trials through the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK on a part-time basis. She completed this MSc in November 2015. During her employment at the Africa Centre , she set up and managed the Flow Cytometry Division. She was responsible for training all staff, creating new protocols and novel methods of analysis for bloods, vaginal washes, foreskins and breast milk samples from HIV positive patients, as well as for performing CD4:CD8 counts for ARV treatment trials, HIV viral load assessments on serum and dried blood spots for adults and children on various clinical trials. In September 2003, she joined the HIV Prevention Research Unit (HPRU) of the Medical Research Council (MRC) as a Scientist where she remained until April 2009 having progressed to position of Specialist Scientist. While at MRC, she gained extensive clinical trial experience as the Site Coordinator on HIV Prevention Trial Network (HPTN) 055, Project Leader/Co-investigator on the Phase III Carraguard trial with the Population Council (2004-2007), Principle Investigator (PI) on Assessing the Reporting of Sensitive Behaviour in Microbicide trials; PI on a Referrals Substudy of the Carraguard Trial, and PI on the Microbicide Development Program (MDP) 301 Microbicide trial at the HPRU Isipingo Clinical Research Site. In May 2009, she joined RHRU (now Wits RHI) in Johannesburg as a Technical Advisor on clinical trials and she became Co-investigator on the MDP 301 and SPARTAC HIV treatment trial. She is the lead investigator on all Microbicide Trial Network (MTN) protocols that were running at Wits RHI. She is the Investigator of Record on MTN 003, MTN 016 and PI and IoR on MTN 015. She is also the protocol co-chair of the MTN020 (ASPIRE) trial since 2011 and will also co-chair the ASPIRE Open label extension HOPE trial. She is the PI of the ASPIRE trial at Wits RHI. She was the PI of the FACTS 001 trial at Wits RHI Yeoville site. She is also a sub-investigator on the WHO sponsored Violence against Women based Safe and Sound trial.
In 2011, she was promoted to the position of Director of Network Trials at Wits RHI. She has also been recently appointed as Sub-investigator for the FHI360 Development and Psychometric validation of measures for vaginal ring adherence at Wits RHI. In addition, is the she lead recipient of a DFID grant awarded in 2015 to strengthen the design of HIV prevention interventions for men who have sex with men in SA and a partner African institution in a study called TRANSFORM. She also holds the Co-PI role on a USAID grant awarded in 2015 that will be focusing on a Community Health clinic model for Agency in Relationships and Safer Microbicide Adherence (CHARISMA). She currently mentors and manages medical scientists, medical officers and social scientists in addition to a diverse study team on a daily basis and supports them pursuing their career and academic growth aspirations. She leads the Laboratory and Regulatory Oversight teams at Wits RHI and is currently spearheading a Lab Expansion initiative that includes Flow cytometry and GeneXpert. Dr Palanee-Phillips plans to take on supervision of undergraduate and post graduate students who will form part of the research capacity development of Wits RHI.


  • –present
    Director: Clinical Trials at the Reproductive Health Institute, University of the Witwatersrand