The Crick African Network has awarded seven new African Career Accelerator Award Fellowships, bringing the total number awarded to 16.
As this final cohort is announced, the second cohort are starting their fellowships under the mentorship of African partner institutions and Crick group leaders specialising in infectious diseases, such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis - which disproportionately affect people living in Africa.
African Career Accelerator Awards are designed to help postdoctoral research scientists to become research group leaders on the African continent.
Spending at least six months at the Crick, Crick African Network fellows will also work at one of five African partner institutions: the MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit; MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM (representing the West African Global Health Alliance); Stellenbosch University; University of Cape Town; and the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens at the University of Ghana.
We caught up with our newest Crick African Network fellows to find out a bit more about their research.
As an infectious diseases physician, Irene has a special interest in tuberculosis (TB) infection and its co-infections. She has a particular interest in understanding more about the protective immune responses in TB, factors that could be associated with susceptibility to TB infection, immune diagnosis of TB infection and the effects of preventative treatments.
Irene will study the impact of pregnancy-associated tuberculosis on poor maternal and infant clinical outcomes, especially in the presence of HIV co-infection.
"I am particularly excited to get hands on experience using state of the art technologies to analyse a super wide range of immune biomarkers. I feel privileged to be trained by a world-class immunologist and hope to transfer the knowledge I acquire to my fellow Ugandan scientists."
Emmanuel's research is focused on understanding the molecular biology of malaria parasite invasion. He is working to understand the functional roles of specific proteins and processes during invasion, in the hope of developing new therapeutic strategies against malaria.
"I was incredibly fortunate to get natural inspiration during the formative years of my undergraduate studies and since then, there has been this unending drive to become a better scientist based in Africa.
"I look forward to embarking on the next stage of my research training at the Francis Crick Institute, where I hope to master cutting-edge techniques and benefit from the rich and diverse faculty in all aspects of molecular parasitology and global health."
Simon is a Ugandan researcher with an interest in the development of vaccines against infectious diseases, especially TB. As a young graduate, he volunteered in Uganda's national TB reference laboratory. While there, he saw the high rates of TB in Uganda and decided to pursue his post-graduate education in the field.
He is currently testing new lab-based tools that can be used to predict how well TB vaccines work in Uganda. He will study the immune response in children that are able to resist TB infection despite being exposed to the disease in order to advance the development of new vaccines against TB.
"I am keen to learn new advanced techniques used to study immune responses to infectious diseases at the Crick and collaborating facilities at King’s College London. I am also looking forward to working with my new collaborators and gaining new insights into new ways of developing new vaccines."
Suraj aims to improve current strategies against tuberculosis by exploiting host-directed therapies, which change the environment inside the body rather than acting directly on the pathogen. These have strong potential to be used alongside antibiotics to boost effectiveness.
He became interested in host-directed therapies during his PhD research with statins against tuberculosis. He saw how genes responsive to viral infections can also influence bacterial disease, including tuberculosis. He aims to investigate a viral responsive gene using knockout mice and use imaging to see how this influences TB infection.
"I am looking forward to working with leading researchers in the field and excited to enhance my image analysis skills through the Advanced Light Microscopy platform at the Crick."
Sofonias is a malaria researcher interested in genomic techniques that can be successfully implemented in an African setting.
Through the fellowship, he hopes to develop and apply a next-generation sequencing based malaria surveillance method that mitigate the limitations of traditional approaches in Ethiopia. He aims to create tools to provide detailed and comprehensive information on the genetic profiles of malaria parasites in Ethiopia.
"The culture of research excellence and the diverse networks of researchers with state-of-the-art platforms at the Francis Crick Institute is extremely attractive for an early career researcher like me."
Ursula studies tuberculous meningitis (TBM), an inflammation of the meninges membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be caused by different microorganisms including the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium. Many children who survive TBM are left severely disabled due to the brain injury caused by the infection.
Working in South Africa, Ursula sees a lot of this disease and as a neuroscientist her research goal is to investigate why this brain damage happens. She studies markers of brain injury that can be detected in the blood or fluid of the brain and spinal cord. She is studying the mechanisms behind this brain injury in depth, in the hope of finding new avenues for treatment.
"The Crick offers world class science and technology platforms with which I can investigate my clinical samples in depth. Access to these platforms, and the opportunity to immerse myself in the dynamic research environment at the Crick will add greatly to the development of my scientific thinking and skill set, and contribute to the refinement of my future research ideas."
Kanny studies bacterial meningitis, the most dangerous form of the devastating brain disease. Her work focuses on one of the most common bacteria implicated, Neisseria meningitidis, which is commonly found at the back of the throat in a region called the oropharynx.
It is currently unclear how Neisseria meningitidis becomes dangerous, so Kanny is going to study the bacterial microbiome of the oropharynx in children in Côte d'Ivoire. She is hoping to identify trends in the microbiome that could be used to predict or prevent infection with the pathogen, and therefore the disease, from taking hold.
"The Crick has all of the platforms and expertise that I need to guide me during the implementation of my project. I am looking forward to interacting with the different scientists and experiencing this original research culture."