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LifeArc supports 8 new fellows through Crick Africa Network (CAN) partnership

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The Crick Africa Network (CAN), a partnership between LifeArc, the Francis Crick Institute and 5 African institutions, has now awarded 8 new African Career Acceleration Fellowships to researchers working on HIV, tuberculosis, sleeping sickness, and other health challenges. 

In 2023, we partnered with the Francis Crick Institute to invest £7.5m in the CAN, which aims to support African scientists to build their research careers, address unmet medical needs in their communities, and bridge the gap between discoveries and the development of new diagnostics, vaccines and treatments. 

The African Career Acceleration Fellowships are designed to support African researchers through the transition to becoming independent researchers, helping them to establish research groups and careers in Africa.  These fellowships are announced as part of the second round of CAN’s African Career Acceleration Fellowships.  

As well as providing the finances to support the fellowships, LifeArc will also deliver training based on our extensive experience in supporting translational research across the MRC and other UK academia. 

The fellows will take part in a four-year training programme spending time at the Crick and one of the network’s five African partner institutions:  

  •  The MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit  
  • The MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM  
  • Stellenbosch University  
  • University of Cape Town  
  • West African Centre for the Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) at the University of Ghana  

In addition, fellows will have the opportunity to spend time in LifeArc’s translational science laboratories in Edinburgh and Stevenage. 

Dr Mike Strange, Head of Global Health at LifeArc says: “We are delighted to support the Crick Africa Network and focus our efforts where the need of patients is greatest and where we can make a unique contribution. Pursuing collaborative partnerships, like this, that drive innovation and help create a more equitable and sustainable global health research ecosystem is core to what we are trying to achieve. We look forward to working with the fellows as they build their careers.” 

Read about the newest Crick Africa Network fellows and their plans for the next 4 years.  

Sheila Balinda  

Sheila will be working with Kate Bishop at the Crick and Stephen Cose at the MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit to study latent HIV ‘viral reservoirs’ in understudied variants of HIV-1 prevalent in Uganda and East Africa.  

“I’m hoping to detect immune markers that could then be used to inform new treatments to eliminate latent HIV viral reservoirs – dormant cells in the body that are infected with HIV but not actively producing new virus.  

The fellowship offers a crucial opportunity to narrow the 10/90 skill gap – a finding that 10% of health research resources are put towards countries where 90% of preventable deaths occur – by training the next generation of young African scientists, especially women.  

I plan to mentor at least one PhD student through this research project, who will in turn mentor master’s students, who will in turn mentor undergraduate students and interns, creating a domino effect.”  

Abdouramane Camara  

Abdou will be working with Dinis Calado at the Crick and Gordon Awandare at WACCBIP to develop a new clinical test to evaluate the efficacy of vaccines at an early stage and predict long-term protection.  

“What excites me most about the fellowship is the unique opportunity to establish myself as an independent scientist on the continent, with access to financial support and resources.  

This opportunity comes at a crucial stage of my postdoc, and I have been constantly exploring the possibility of returning to Africa while training in world-class research in Europe over the past 13 years.  

I believe it is time for me to return to Africa and contribute to its scientific advancement.”  

Leopold Djomkam Tientcheu  

Leopold will be working with Max Gutierrez at the Crick and Jayne Sutherland at the MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM to study how people’s immune profiles affect their responses to tuberculosis (TB) treatments.  

 “This award offers much-needed stability in my career, as I’ll achieve a lot – including additional grants – within the next four years and continue to expand the scope of my research.   

At the end of the fellowship, I hope to have generated evidence that will inform the development of different treatment approaches for TB that account for diversity in people’s immune profiles and different strains of TB.  

 This award will also solidify the next step in my academic career, allowing me to train the next generation of scientists.”  

Jerry Joe Harrison  

Jerry Joe Harrison will be working with Peter Cherepanov at the Crick and Gordon Awandare at WACCBIP to study the basic biology of HIV-2, a less well-understood variant of the virus, intending to develop inhibitor drugs specifically for HIV-2.  

 “Young researchers – no matter how brilliant they are – have difficulty securing research grants to set up their laboratories. In developing countries like Ghana, this problem is even more acute due to a lack of research infrastructure, leading to the ‘brain drain’ of brilliant minds.  

 By combining financial assistance with mentoring from seasoned scientists, the Crick Africa Network fellowship provides all the ingredients needed by researchers to navigate their way to becoming independent researchers.”   

Tracey Jooste  

Tracey Jooste will be working with Robert Wilkinson at the Crick and Gerhard Walzl at Stellenbosch University to develop tests that predict the success of TB treatment and the possibility of relapse.  

 “What excites me most about this fellowship is the access to cutting-edge facilities, mentorship, and a collaborative network to ultimately strengthen the scientific ecosystem in Africa.  

My aspiration is to establish myself as an independent researcher in my field, equipped with the skills, expertise, and connections to contribute to the improvement of African healthcare, research infrastructure, and scientific education.”  

Johannes (JP) Maree  

JP will be working with Louise Walport and the Structural Biology Facility at the Crick and Hugh Patterton at Stellenbosch University to identify epigenetic treatments for African Trypanosomiasis or African sleeping sickness.  

 “I am looking forward to learning new techniques and approaches and having access to advanced training, mentoring, and cutting-edge science technology platforms at the Crick.   

The emphasis on collaboration and the opportunity for scientific discussion will be incredibly beneficial. I’m eager to build a robust network with the fellows, fostering lifelong camaraderie and collaboration to enhance connections and research capacity in Africa.”  

Ruan Gert Marais  

Ruan will be working with Robert Wilkinson at the Crick and Adrian Brink at the University of Cape Town to contribute towards implementing metagenomics in the clinic in South Africa.  

“Throughout my fellowship, I plan to build the evidence base to support the routine use of clinical metagenomics in microbiology clinics in South Africa. I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with world-leading academics in both the UK and South Africa and to have the support of industry to bring this work into the clinic.  

I’m hoping to build a strong collaborative network in South Africa and the UK in this space. I want to develop the skills needed to advance – not just replicate – this field at home.”  

Munyaradzi Musvosvi  

Munyaradzi will be working with Robert Wilkinson at the Crick and Thomas Scriba at the University of Cape Town to develop a tool to diagnose tuberculosis (TB).  

“I will be developing a microfluidic-based immune platform that can monitor T cell responses to TB. I’m hoping to develop a cartridge that can be used to diagnose TB and determine the risk of a TB infection progressing.  

I’m excited about the translational nature of the African Career Acceleration Fellowships. The prospect of developing a product that reduces the burden of TB, and empower researchers to better understand immune responses to TB is very exciting.   

I’m looking forward to working with the partners, my mentors, and the LifeArc team to develop a spin-out company to commercialise the platform for other people to use.”


Media contact

Hannah Severyn
Head of Media and PR at LifeArc

hannah.severyn@lifearc.org

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