Dr. Akhwale’s research focuses on the use of bacteriophages (bacteria-infecting viruses) to control soft rot of fruits and vegetables caused by certain strains of Erwinia and Pseudomonas bacteria, to mitigate post-harvest losses and enhance food security. Large quantities of fruits and vegetables are wasted every year during their journey to consumers due to microbial spoilage. Among the bacteria that cause this spoilage, pectinolytic strains of Erwinia and Pseudomonas species are the most destructive, and current methods to control them using bactericides and antibiotics are not sustainable due to increased bacterial resistance. Dr. Akhwale is investigating the use of phages as a safe and economically viable way to control these phytopathogens. The mitigation of fruit and vegetable postharvest loss in Kenya will not only ensure fresh quality and nutritional value of the foods, but will also reduce chemical contaminants in the food supply and help to achieve food security. With the support from the Early Career fellowship, she will be able to buy consumables and equipment including glassware, a Gel Document Imaging System and a centrifuge for her lab, as well as to undertake field visits to study the prevalence of soft rot disease.
Dr. Akinyi’s research focuses on identifying and characterizing zoonotic pathogens (parasites that can be transmitted between animals and humans) in understudied wild populations of non-human primates. Recent decades have seen the emergence of several diseases from wildlife that have led to epidemics and pandemics; 75% of the pathogens associated with emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases originate from wildlife. Eradication of these diseases involves surveillance of wildlife that are known to be reservoirs. By identifying and characterizing zoonotic pathogens circulating in non-human primates in Kenya—about which there is currently scarce knowledge—Dr. Akinyi is providing critical information for monitoring emerging diseases. The transmission of these pathogens is facilitated by encroachment of humans into wildlife habitats and associated anthropogenic changes to the ecosystem; Dr. Akinyi’s research will also help to develop primate conservation programmes to preserve biodiversity. With support from the Early Career Fellowship, she will be able to purchase laboratory reagents and nanopore sequencing equipment, and to carry out community outreach programmes geared towards zoonoses awareness.
Dr. Bhandari is working to document ethno-pharmacological knowledge related to Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) in Nepal, and to validate this knowledge through phytochemical and pharmacological laboratory analysis; through her investigation, she will be able to produce recommendations for the effective use of these plants. MAPs represent around a quarter of Nepal’s vascular flora and are an important component of traditional medicine systems in Nepal. Many rural communities depend largely on traditional medicinal plants to treat disease because of lacking medical facilities in rural areas. With the support from the Early Career fellowship, Dr. Bhandari will be able to fund undergraduate, Masters and PhD students to assist with carrying out both field-based and lab-based research. She will also be able to conduct several community awareness programmes, provide trainings to local communities on the domestication and cultivation of high value MAPs which are locally available, and organize workshops to facilitate closer collaborations between communities and herbal medicinal industries interested in commercialization.
Mycobacterial Disease Research Directorate,
Armauer Hansen Research Institute
Medical and health sciences
Dr. Gebeyehu is researching the role of certain types of immune cells in infection and disease development in tuberculosis (TB) patients. Tuberculosis is a poverty-associated disease that causes morbidity and mortality in millions each year, and is the leading cause of death due to a single infectious disease in the world. Despite the World Health Organization’s effort to “End TB” by 2030, vaccine development efforts are hindered by a lack of biomarkers that can be used to determine the efficacy of protection. Dr. Gebeyehu will evaluate immune responses to TB antigens and characterize non-conventional adaptive immune cells and innate immune cells in people who remain resistant to TB despite continuous exposure; this will help to determine whether these cells can be used as correlates of protection in vaccine development. The funding from the Early Career fellowship will allow Dr. Gebeyehu to purchase laboratory reagents and consumables for her experiments, to pay for advanced laboratory analyses to be performed in specialized international laboratories, and to travel abroad for training.
Chandima Ariyarathna Hanchapola Appuhamilage
Department of Botany,
University of Peradeniya
Dr. Ariyarathna’s research focuses on developing drought- and salinity-tolerant rice varieties for production systems in Sri Lanka. Rice is the staple food for Sri Lankans and for half of the world’s population. Widely grown Sri Lankan rice varieties are susceptible to drought and salinity stress; in 2017, rice production dropped by 40% due to drought, affecting over 1.5 million Sri Lankan farmers, and subsurface salinity also affects over 100,000 hectares of paddy lands. Developing rice germplasm (seeds) that is tolerant to drought and salinity can significantly enhance food security and increase economic sustainability of rice production systems; however, this remains costly and difficult to implement in Sri Lanka. Dr. Ariyarathna is developing a platform for cost-effective and rapid turnover of rice varieties that combines DNA marker-assisted pre-breeding and selection breeding strategies with computing technology and genetic resources. The platform will make advanced breeding techniques accessible to local organizations. With the Early Carrier Fellowship funding, she will be able to buy equipment including a centrifuge and a vertical gel apparatus for SSR genotyping, as well as to take on two postgraduate students to assist with the research.
Department of Genetics and Molecular Biology,
University of Sri Jayewardenepura
Structural, cell and molecular biology
Dr. Harischandra is working to develop a reliable, user-friendly diagnostic device for Lymphatic Filariasis (LF - commonly known as elephantiasis) based on extracellular vesiclular (EV) proteins. LF is a parasitic disease that puts 893 million people at risk globally. There is no known cure for LF; current control measures consist of mass drug administration (MDA) to populations at risk, post-MDA surveillance and mobility management of the chronically infected. Early detection allows for early interventions, minimizing the risk of chronic infections. Dr. Harischandra is investigating the potential to use proteins from extracellular vesicles as biomarkers in a diagnostic test. The high stability and specificity of EV proteins as biomarkers will allow for more rapid and rigorous screening, permitting early diagnosis and better interventions in LF-stricken regions globally. With the support from the Early Career Fellowship, she will be able to buy the equipment needed for protein-related research, allowing her to expand her research into proteins and explore the problem in a more comprehensive way. She hopes that it will also help her to attract partnerships with industry, opening doors for future collaborations.
Department of Chemical Engineering
Bangladesh University of Engineering
Dr. Islam works on developing biomaterials using the principles of “waste to wealth”. Currently, she is developing a product for accelerated wound healing that is extracted using green technologies from the waste of marine industries—specifically, from chitosan extracted from shrimp shells and from collagen peptides from a strain of local fish. This product will be particularly advantageous for diabetic and other immunocompromised people. An estimated 7.1 million people have diabetes in Bangladesh, and up to one third of adults in rural Bangladesh live with diabetes-related impairments; Bangladesh is projected to be one of the top 10 countries in 2030 for the number of people with diabetes in people between ages 29-70. Individuals with diabetes in rural areas (and those with other non-communicable diseases causing slow healing) will be hugely benefited from a cost-effective, locally manufactured, accelerated wound healing product. With support from the Early Career fellowship grant, Dr. Islam will be able to purchase an ATR-FTIR spectrometer, which will be essential to characterize the chitosan and peptides extracted and optimize the formulation for the wound healing product, as well as to supervise Masters students to work on different areas of this project.
Department of Internal Medicine,
University of Zambia School of Medicine
Medical and health sciences
Dr. Kelly is developing a simple, easy-to-use medical device to diagnose individuals with early stomach cancer that can be used in basic outpatient clinics in both rural and urban centres. Early detection of stomach cancer is very difficult in many parts of Africa and endoscopic services are available to few people. Patients with stomach cancer are often diagnosed too late for curative treatment. Dr. Kelly’s S-filum device, as she calls it, will enable earlier detection of stomach cancer and therefore improved patient outcomes. In addition, the S-filum will also help to identify individuals with stomach ulcers, offering an opportunity for treatment before they become complicated. The S-filum will not require the use of electricity, water or advanced clinical skills, making it useful even in medical settings with few resources, including in rural areas. With the funding from the Early Career fellowship, Dr. Kelly will be able to buy the supplies needed to produce the S-filum, to conduct a clinical study to test the device on patients presenting for upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, and to communicate her findings to both the scientific and non-scientific communities.
Raquel Matavele Chissumba
National Institute of Health, Mozambique
Medical and health sciences
Dr. Matavele Chissumba is assessing the potential of the moringa tree, Moringa oleifera, to control the exacerbated inflammatory response that occurs in severe cases of COVID-19. The tropical immune system is different than the western immune system predominantly described in the literature. Thus, limited information is available regarding the processes by which SARS-CoV-2 causes disease in the African context. Dr. Matavele Chissumba’s research will identify potential biomarkers of COVID-19 progression and treatment efficacy that will inform the development of therapeutic and preventive protocols specifically oriented to African populations. It will identify cost-effective approaches for management of patients with COVID-19, including the use of moringa or other biotherapeutics abundant and easily applicable in Mozambican/African settings. It will also contribute to new methods for disease monitoring. With the Early Career fellowship funding, Dr. Matavele Chissumba will be able to hire two full-time research assistants for the duration of the project as well as to purchase consumables and lab equipment, and to cover the costs of field work.
Research Fellow/Head of Research Program
Plant and Microbial Biotechnology Program
Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board
Dr. Munganyinka is working to characterize viruses that affect passionfruit (Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa Deg.) crops and to propose appropriate management strategies. Passion fruit is an economically important crop in Rwanda, both for local consumption and for export; however, farmers are experiencing significant losses of the fruit caused by viruses both known (particularly the passionfruit woodiness virus, PWV) and unknown, causing many of them to abandon cultivation of the crop. The problem is exacerbated by a lack of access to virus-free planting material. Passion fruits are propagated primarily through exchange of seeds or cuttings among farmers in Rwanda, but these seeds are rarely certified or tested for viruses, contributing to rapid and wide spreading of viruses. Dr. Munganyinka’s research will use biotechnology and community phytosanitation techniques to improve the diagnosis of passion fruit viruses, and produce and disseminate clean planting material to increase crop yields in the country. With the Early Career fellowship funding, she will be able to purchase reagents and consumables for laboratory analyses, train farmers and other stakeholders, and cover costs related to communication and dissemination of project outcomes and technology transfer.
Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme,
University of Malawi College of Medicine
Medical and health sciences
Dr. Musaya’s research focuses on control and prevention of trypanosomiasis (commonly known as sleeping sickness). Trypanosomiasis is usually reported at later stages, necessitating hospitalization for effective treatment. Earlier medical care can greatly improve outcomes; however, little is known about why individuals in a certain area present early or late at health facilities. Dr. Musaya is working to link information from trypanosomiasis case reports in Malawi with patients’ geographical locations, to identify spatial patterns and key geographic and environmental factors that can affect when patients present. This information can also help to inform a strategy for developing community awareness about the disease, targeting areas with clusters of infections. With the support from the Early Career fellowship, Dr. Musaya will be able to fund field visits and to organize workshops in remote areas where trypanosomiasis is prevalent; she will also be able to purchase necessary equipment.
Department of Agricultural Resource Management
University of Embu
Dr. Muturi’s research focuses on the use of smart sustainable Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies to control the fall armyworm moth (Spodoptera frugiperda) on maize. Fall armyworm is an insect pest that has spread quickly throughout Kenya since it was first sighted in 2017, threatening food security particularly in drought-prone areas; it has caused losses up of to 60% in cereal crops. Synthetic chemicals to control the pest are both expensive for smallholder farmers and harmful to the environment; Dr. Muturi is investigating alternatives to these chemicals, including the use of bio-pesticides made from combinations of locally available plants, as well as the application of ‘push-pull’ technology that involves intercropping cereal crops with legumes that are repellant to the insects and planting forage fodder attractive to the insects around the intercrop. With the support from the Early Career fellowship, she will be able to fund travel to field work locations and to purchase farm equipment for those visits, as well as to implement trainings for farmers; the fellowship funding will also cover the cost of consumables including seeds and solvents, and the hiring of two Masters students to assist with the research project.
Department of Chemistry,
Multimedia University of Kenya
Dr. Ngigi’s research focuses on assessing the human health risks from exposure to antibiotic residues, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes through the consumption and handling of antibiotic-contaminated poultry food material. High levels of antibiotic resistance have increased disease burdens, which negatively impacts on efforts to provide universal health care in Kenya. By determining the amount of residual antibiotics in poultry products, and further quantifying antibiotic-resistant bacteria and genes resistant to frequently used antibiotics, Dr. Ngigi will be able to provide more accurate risk assessments. Her findings will strengthen the knowledge and evidence base needed to guide Kenya’s National Action Plan for prevention and containment of antimicrobial resistance. With the support from the Early Career fellowship, she will be able to purchase a centrifuge, an SPE vacuum manifold, and a sonicator for her experiments. She will also be able to fund one PhD student and two Master’s students to assist with carrying out laboratory experiments and field studies.
School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences,
United States International University
Dr. Noah’s work focuses on the fabrication of Nanostructured Polyamic Acid water purification filters to help control water-borne diseases in Kenya. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 3.5 million people die every year from water-borne diseases emanating from unsafe drinking water. Provision of filtered water for community use is one of the most effective and permanent strategies for reducing water-borne disease. Dr. Noah’s ultimate goal is to make low-cost filter cartridges using nanostructure membranes for water purification and microbial decontamination, which can be distributed to target populations particularly in the low-lying regions in Kenya prone to flooding. With the support from the Early Career Fellowship, she will be able to buy chemicals, basic equipment and glassware that will enable her to improve the effectiveness of the nanomembranes and build and validate nano-cartridges. She will also be able to fund one Masters student to assist with carrying out experiments.
Department of Inorganic Chemistry
University of Yaounde I
Dr. Nyamen’s research is aimed at using nanomaterials to improve the removal of organic pollutants (dyes) and harmful microbes from industrial wastewaters. Rapid population growth and industrial development have led to the continuous release of toxic and persistent dyes into aquatic environments, which have hazardous effects on aquatic and human life and on the environment. Wastewater should be treated carefully before being discharged into the environment; however in low-income countries only 8% of wastewater undergoes treatment. While there are various nanotechnology-based solutions to remove pollutants, they are often expensive to implement and can generate secondary pollutants. Dr. Nyamen is developing nanocomposite materials with metal sulfides that work using photocatalysis, a cleaner and more cost-effective method for removing dyes; this could provide a scalable, environmentally-friendly method for wastewater treatment. With the funding from the Early Career fellowship, she will be able to equip her lab with necessary supplies such as chemicals, solvents and glassware, IT equipment including laptops, and a better internet connection; she will also be able to send samples abroad to other institutions for analysis.
Department of Physical Sciences,
Dr. Okello’s research focuses on developing new analytical methods and nanoscale/nano-enabled materials for environmental remediation and monitoring of water, soil and air pollutants. The presence of Perchlorates (PCs) and fluorides (F-) in groundwater and surface water is a worldwide concern as high concentrations of these can cause health problems such as softening of bones, thyroid disruption, and cancer. Currently, 41% of Kenyans rely on groundwater sources while 59% use unimproved sanitation. Industrial discharge of PCs & F- in wastewater exacerbates the problem and increases loss of drinking water. Dr. Okello Oduor’s project seeks to develop an easy-to-use, widely available water filter that can screen F- and PCs and will be linked to end-users through existing market systems for wastewater treatment; given its nanosized pores, the filter should also remove other microorganisms such as bacteria. Dr. Okello Oduor’s findings will also be able to inform policy decisions aimed at reduced contamination. With the support from the Early Career fellowship, she will be able to buy equipment including an electrochemical analyser and Ion-Selective Electrode, as well as to establish an electrochemical lab for teaching and research and to support three postgraduate students.
Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology
University of Ghana
Structural, cell and molecular biology
Dr. Paemka’s research focuses on characterizing genetic risk factors for breast cancer in Ghanaian women. It is estimated that over 19.3 million women worldwide will suffer from the disease by 2025, with the majority from Sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, breast cancer has a mortality rate as high as 50% and accounts for 16% of all cancer cases; it is responsible for the majority of cancer-related deaths in women. The aggressive triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) sub-type is overrepresented in people of West African ancestry and accounts for a disproportionate number of metastatic cases and deaths. Most patients also report at clinics at advanced stages of the disease, which contributes to the high mortality observed in the region. In spite of being a complex genetic disease, genetic variations associated with breast cancer in Ghanaians are unknown. With the Early Career Fellowship funding, Dr. Paemka will be able to sequence tumour DNA in a cohort of women with breast cancer to identify genetic variants associated with the condition; she additionally will be able to offer free breast exams and to raise breast cancer awareness.
Department of Computer Engineering and Information Technology
Mandalay Technological University
Computing and information technology
Dr. Shwe’s research focuses on big data management and processing on fog devices for Internet of Things (IoT) and computer vision applications. As the real-time Internet of Things (IoT) and computer vision applications are increasingly being deployed in smart cities, smart buildings, smart transportation, and smart health care, these technologies have the potential to bring a better quality of life to people around the world; however, these kinds of applications are traditionally hosted on public and private cloud data centers, to which developing countries have little or no access. Dr. Shwe is developing a comprehensive big data management framework on affordable, locally available fog devices, capable of data processing, transfer, storage, and back-up. Her platform will allow IoT and computer vision applications to be executed cheaply using local IT infrastructures rather than remote cloud data centers, opening the possibilities created by these technologies to the developing world. With the support from the Early Career fellowship, she will be able to purchase lab equipment such as a GPU machine, networking devices and CCTV cameras, as well as to fund PhD students to assist with the research and to cover publication costs.
Department of Computational Mathematics
University of Moratuwa
Dr. Talagala is tackling key mathematical challenges in the early detection of anomalies in high dimensional streaming data. With the spread of the Internet of Things and as more and more devices are providing live streaming data, detecting anomalies in this data is becoming an increasingly important research topic. Anomaly detection has been explored within diverse research areas and application domains such as fraud detection, health monitoring, and environmental monitoring. Despite the ever-increasing attention and resources devoted to it, some challenges in anomaly detection are not supported by existing methods; Dr. Talagala is working to solve these challenges. Her work has immediate applications in cybersecurity, water quality and disease outbreaks, which will have a positive impact on the sustainable development of Sri Lanka and other countries. The OWSD Early Career funding will help her to reach the intended outcomes by supporting her to build interdisciplinary teams, provide superior research training, and translate her research to deliver impact.
Sylvie Muwanga Tebitendwa
Department of Fisheries and Water Resources Management
Biological systems and organisms
Dr. Tebitendwa’s research focuses on cultivating microalgae-bacteria flocs—a type of biomass formed from the aggregation of aquatic microbes—from high rate algal pond systems, in order to increase natural production of food for the Nile tilapia fish (Oreochromis niloticus). Fish are the cheapest source of animal protein for rural communities in Uganda, but the aquaculture industry is limited by inadequate supply and high cost of quality formulated fish foods. To address these challenges, Dr. Tebitendwa will investigate the nutritional quality of microalgae-bacteria flocs harvested from high rate algal ponds, a type of shallow artificial pond commonly used for wastewater treatment with high yields of algae. Her findings will determine whether these naturally growing fish foods have the potential to replace or supplement formulated foods, leading to improved food quality and reduced costs especially for rural fish farmers. With support from the Early Career Fellowship, Dr. Tebitendwa will be able to buy analytical reagents and equipment including a spectrophotometer and multi-meter probes, as well as to fund two Masters students to assist with laboratory experiments.
Nassifatou Koko Tittikpina
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences,
University of Lome
Dr. Tittikpina aims to provide data on the quality of commonly used pharmaceutical products. Between 2013 and 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) received 1500 reports of counterfeit drugs, 42% of which came from Africa. Antibiotics and antimalarials are the most falsified products; an estimated 64,000 to 158,000 people die annually in Sub-Saharan Africa due to these counterfeit products. Dr. Tittikpina will collect samples of antibiotics, antimalarial drugs, and oxytocin, and conduct a quality control on them to detect fake drugs, using existing and newly developed analytical chemistry methods. In addition, she will elaborate strategies to eradicate these fake drugs from the market. With the support from the Early Career Fellowship, she will be able to buy equipment includng a GPHF-Minilab (a mobile miniature laboratory built specifically for counterfeit drug detection), IT equipment (a computer, printer, and scanner) and consumables. She will also be able to fund two Masters students to assist with carrying out experiments. Under the Early Career fellowship, she also hopes to establish connections with private and public industries and lay the foundation for the creation of a sustainable analytical chemistry laboratory at the University of Lome.
Dulharie Thanuja Wijeratne
Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences,
The Open University of Sri Lanka
Medical and health sciences
Dr. Wijeratne is investigating the role of Natural Killer (NK) immune cells - in acute dengue infection. The dengue virus infects approximately 390 million people worldwide every year. Currently, neither effective antiviral drugs nor a good vaccine are available, partly due to the complexity of the host immune response to the four known serotypes (strains) of the virus. Dr. Wijeratne is looking at the frequency, functionality and phenotype of NK cells isolated from dengue patients to determine their role in increasing protection from dengue infections. Identifying functional NK cell subsets in dengue fever and dengue hemorrhagic fever, and their role in disease development, will inform future studies on management of dengue viral infections and improved vaccine efficacy. With the support of the Early Career fellowship, she will be able to purchase all the reagents needed to carry out her experiments for this project as well as to fund a Masters student to assist with the research. Additionally, she hopes that the funding will help to cultivate a strong research culture in her relatively new university department, and that it will pave the way for new and vital contributions to the health sector in Sri Lanka.
Department of Biology,
Mongolian National University of Education
Biological systems and organisms
Dr. Yadamsuren is working to develop a multimetric water quality index for Mongolia based on different characteristics of macroinvertebrate species (i.e. insects, worms and mollusks) present—or absent—in waterways. Mongolia’s water resources are degrading in both quality and quantity due to many factors including inefficient water management, overgrazing, deforestation and climate change, yet no system for aquatic biomonitoring is in place. Dr. Yadamsuren will collect and analyze data on characteristics of macroinvertebrates in different aquatic ecosystems, including their diversity, abundance, behaviors, and tolerance to specific conditions; these metrics will become the basis for a principal assessment tool of water quality throughout the country, allowing for the detection of future changes and for the management and conservation of the country’s aquatic ecosystems. With the support from the Early Career fellowship, she will be able to buy necessary field and lab equipment including a spectrophotometer, flowmeter, aquatic nets, and binoculars. She will additionally be able to fund two master students to assist with the research, and to cover expenses related to field work and to the organization of a scientific meeting and workshop.