Five top African scientists awarded training fellowships

The Crick African Network (CAN) has awarded training fellowships to five top young African scientists to tackle infectious diseases prevalent on the continent.

The African Career Accelerator Awards, which were launched earlier this year, are designed to help early-career researchers make the transition to leading their own research groups in Africa.

The first cohort of CAN fellows will start to arrive at the Crick in the new year for training under the mentorship of group leaders with extensive experience researching diseases including HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria.

After a stint of up to one year at the Crick, the fellows will continue their training at one of the five African partner institutions: Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town, South Africa, the MRC (Medical Research Council) Uganda Virus Research Institute, WACCBIP, University of Ghana and the MRC Unit in The Gambia who are also representing the West African Global Health Alliance.

We caught up with our incoming fellows to find out a bit more about them and their research areas:

Dr Yaw Bediako

Dr Yaw Bediako

Yaw Bediako

After growing up in Ghana, Yaw travelled to the US to study immunology, completing his PhD at Northwestern University, Chicago. Spurred by his desire to return to the African continent, he then became a post-doc at KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, studying immunology in cohorts of children in Kenya who had malaria. He then moved to the UK to continue his postdoctoral training in Jean Langhorne’s Lab, whilst continuing to travel to Kenya as part of his research.

As a CAN Fellow, he will study malaria in African children, at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), University of Ghana. He will compare the immunological responses of children in areas of high and low malaria transmission, as it has been observed that people in high transmission areas develop partial immunity to the disease over time. This research could inform future malaria vaccine design.

In addition to his research, Yaw is part of the team leading the African Science Initiative (ASI) – an online networking platform for African scientists that encourages direct interaction. Yaw is passionate about building capacity in Africa, through projects such as ASI and CAN, “but you can’t do that without doing good science.”

Dr Mandy Mason

Dr Mandy Mason

Dr Mandy Mason

TB is currently the leading natural cause of death in South Africa. Currently based at the University of Cape Town at the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Mandy’s research centres on improving our understanding of the biology of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the bacterium that causes TB. By investigating a wide range of bacteria with mutations, she hopes to find some which are more susceptible to being killed by existing medicines.

“I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to be invited to be one of the first African Postdoctoral Fellows that will form a part of the Crick African Network. It is a great honour to be selected to work within, and be supported by, this ground-breaking programme that facilitates collaborative research between African institutions and the Francis Crick Institute.”

“I am also eager to learn from the science technology platforms (STPs) at the Crick, which offer consolidated resources and training for technology-heavy aspects of the project.”

Benoît

Dr Sessinou Benoît Assogba

Dr Sessinou Benoît Assogba

Benoît completed his Biochemistry MPhil at the University of Abomey Calavi, in Benin. Having developed an interest in mosquitoes as the insect ‘vector’ that carries malaria, he then joined the Entomological Research Centre of the Minister of Health as a Research Intern in 2007. There, he pursued his interest in vector biology and control, completing his masters and PhD.

He joined the MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM through Malaria Research Capacity Development (MARCAD) in 2017 for his first postdoctoral fellowship.

As a CAN Fellow, Benoît plans to study the molecular mechanisms and behaviour of mosquito reproduction, in the hope of developing innovative new strategies for improved control and spread of malaria.

Spending part of his Fellowship at the Crick, Benoît will also be based at MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM, which has contributed a great deal to reducing tropical disease and impact in Sub Saharan Africa through field research activities.  

Dr Brigitte Glanzmann

Dr Brigitte Glanzmann

Dr Brigitte Glanzmann

As a post-doctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, Brigitte has been focussing on understanding the molecular basis for patients with an undiagnosed primary immunodeficiency disease (PID), particularly in individuals with an increased susceptibility to tuberculosis.

She also speaks to patient advocacy groups, specifically the Primary Immunodeficiencies Network of South Africa (PiNSA), which facilitates interaction between scientists, clinicians and patients, and fosters the translation of scientific results to individuals and their families affected by PIDs.

As a CAN Fellow, Brigitte will focus on children who get TB repeatedly, to understand if genetic causes make them more prone to developing the active disease. She says “I would like to make a contribution to the scientific community and hopefully provide a platform which will allow even the poorest of the poor to access life changing therapies.”

Dr Peter Quashie

Dr Peter Quashie

Peter Quashie

Peter spent his formative years in Botswana during the 1990s, at a time when more than 30% of the population were estimated to carry HIV. Against this backdrop, he pursued his studies in pure science, before moving to Canada to complete his higher education at Concordia University, and McGill University where he studied for a PhD in HIV and contributed to an understanding of drug resistance in integrase, an enzyme produced by viruses that enables them to exploit the cells that they infect.

His current research goals are to understand the strains of HIV circulating within West Africa, and how they are impacted by current treatment regimes. His research aims to predict how different strains will react to therapy, by mimicking long-term anti-retroviral therapy. For this study, he will be partly based at WACCBIP in Ghana.

“One of the most important things in discovery, is continually being exposed to different ways of thinking,” he said. “I expect to benefit from the research infrastructure; but mostly I expect to benefit from opportunities to discuss science.”

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