Plugging In NIBR Connections at Kenyatta University (KU)
The African fellows who participate in the NIBR-Seeding Labs Scientific Fellowship Program are highly qualified early/mid-career PhD scientists from Kenya, as well as Ghana and Mali. The program in Cambridge and Basel aims to help build scientific and clinical capabilities in Africa.
Several participants are professors from Kenyatta University and the University of Nairobi. Their goal is to transfer their new knowledge and skills to students and colleagues at their home institutions, such as Computer-Aided Drug Discovery (CADD).
The visiting Kenyan scientists take away more than fresh ideas and basic research skills. The exchange also includes CADD and other equipment that has been retired from use at NIBR, but hasn’t lost function for modern chemical and biological research education.
Kenyatta University (KU) Professors Evans Ogwagwa and Hudson Nyambaka, had a chance to host their NIBR mentors earlier this year when medicinal chemist Heather Burks and computational chemist Lewis Whitehead arrived in Kenya’s capital to help power up the lab equipment donations. And that interaction is an important goal of the NIBR-Seeding Labs Scientific Fellowship Program.
“Engaging with scientists in Kenya is not just a nice thing to do, it’s good for Novartis,“ said Brigitta Tadmor, Ph.D., Global Head of Education, Diversity & Inclusion, NIBR. “Looking toward the future, we recognize the need to work with the scientific and medical communities in Africa to improve science and medical practice on that continent. Our colleagues in Africa can provide a perspective that will be invaluable in addressing medical problems in areas where Western solutions won’t work.”
“This collaboration is fundamental to our work of building a truly inter-connected global science community. Equipment, training and connections like these between colleagues will ensure that talented scientists can work together across geographies to tackle the most important medical problems,” said Dr. Nina Dudnik, founder and CEO of Seeding Labs.
Crates of equipment arrived in time for Burks’ and Whitehead’s visit. The shipment included two analytical liquid chromatography/mass spectroscopy instruments, the first of its kind at the university, 16 LINUX computer systems, and 1 polarimeter. The equipment had been repurposed from NIBR for use in the research and teaching laboratories at Kenyatta University.
According to Prof. Ogwagawa, the refurbished computers will allow his students to actually practice computational science rather than just reading about it in text books. After securing an uninterrupted electrical power supply, KU graduate students began downloading free computational chemistry software onto a bank of the new computers with advice and encouragement from Whitehead and Burks. There is no overstating the impact that the Fellows program and the recent research equipment will have at KU and the University of Nairobi.
And it’s likely this won’t be the last trip to Nairobi for the NIBR scientists. They are working with the Kenyan professors on securing American Chemical Society Innovative Project grants to further design a teaching & research curriculum for hands-on use of the equipment -- from analyzing samples to developing natural product research capabilities.
In summer 2012 another cohort of African Fellows arrived at Cambridge headquarters, paired with NIBR scientists based on research interests and background. Each Fellow and mentor developed a short research project on specific techniques and equipment. Outside the lab, Fellows participated in a curriculum designed by Seeding Labs to address experimental design, proposal writing, and scientific communication skills. And if all goes according to plan, some of our NIBR mentors will visit the fellows back in Africa in the next few years.
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