Participants at the Conference
The West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), held its 3rd Annual Research Conference from July 18-20, 2018 to provide a platform for the dissemination of research conducted by fellows at the Centre and by visiting scientists from its global network of collaborators.
The three-day conference, held under the theme “Translating Molecular Research into Healthcare Solutions for Africa”, brought together world-class scientists from Africa, Europe, and North America who conduct research into tropical diseases, including malaria and buruli ulcer prevalent in Africa. The conference afforded young scientists at the Centre the opportunity to interact with the seasoned ones, giving them better insight into their research projects and opening them up to new perspectives.
Director of WACCBIP, Prof. Gordon Awandare
In his opening remarks, Director of WACCBIP, Prof. Gordon Awandare, explained that the Centre was established with the vision to build and support development of dynamic and internationally competitive talent. He reiterated the Centre’s commitment towards the provision of high-end facilities suitable for advanced training and research, and cited the construction of the new WACCBIP building as one of the key achievements towards reaching the Centre’s overarching goal.
He entreated Government to provide incentives to encourage the creation of research units in the private sector to absorb the pool of research scientists produced by research institutions across the country. He explained that WACCBIP’s vision does not end at training scientists but extends to ensuring that their training is translated into relevant research output for the future.
“Since we started, we have given fellowships to 90 masters students, 50 PhD students, and 12 postdocs. That is the largest biomedical training research programme in West Africa. Nobody has done that in the last four years.” Prof. Awandare said. “But we are starting to think about the next step. What are all these 152 students going to do next? So, as African Governments, as funding agencies, as Science research leaders, we have to create opportunities for the scientists we train. Otherwise, they’ll pack their bags and leave.”
Dr. Lydia Mosi, Head of Department of Biochemistry Cell and Molecular Biology (BCMB)
He also emphasized the need for Government to establish a national research fund, which will provide the financial basis for training more scientists and empowering scientific research. He explained that the research fund will not only support the work already being done at existing research institutions like WACCBIP but will also provide opportunities for new investigators to access grants and start their own research projects.
He applauded Government for renewing the nation’s commitment to the third call for the World Bank’s African Centres of Excellence project, the first of which was the main financial catalyst for the establishment WACCBIP in 2014.
“The World Bank project led to the establishment of WACCBIP, and the funding mechanism [dictates] that our Government had to agree that the World Bank would charge the funding as a loan…[which] they are supposed to pay back,” Prof. Awandare said. “The World Bank is doing another round and our Government has signed up, which is something we need to applaud them for. What it means is that WACCBIP gets to apply for renewal of our funding [which] is very important for what we’re doing here; to maintain the momentum that we’ve created.”
Prof. Keith Gull, Professor at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology at the University of Oxford and Chair of the WACCBIP International Advisory Board, was impressed with WACCBIP’s sustained development of its research and training activities since its establishment.
Prof. Keith Gull
“I’m a biomedical scientist—a microbiologist—and I have been working most of my career in the U.K, but I have spent a bit of time in the U.S, in continental Europe, and in Africa. You’ve heard a lot about sustainable development…I think this [WACCBIP] is one of the best examples of sustainable development,” Prof. Gull said. “WACCBIP is set up to provide an excellent education for the students that go through, and, whilst you’re here, it’s doing something else through the effort of a large number of people: [it] is giving you the freedom to succeed.”
He thanked the World Bank and the Wellcome Trust for staying with a vision focused on supporting research initiatives in Africa and applauded their role, as well as that of the University of Ghana, in the growth of WACCBIP. He encouraged students not to only think about acquiring a degree, but to take advantage of the platform that WACCBIP presents for intellectual enrichment and research.
“It has always been the vision of WACCBIP and the Department to balance research and teaching, and that is really a critical part of a research-led education. Some of you are here for a degree; a masters or a PhD. I think that’s one of the least important things about what you’re doing at WACCBIP. You’re not here [only] to get a degree; you are here to engage and end up with something far more precious; it’s called an education.” Prof. Gull said.
Prof. Francis Dodoo, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Development
Prof. Francis Dodoo, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Development at University of Ghana, who chaired the opening ceremony, expressed his delight at the impact WACCBIP has made in mobilising resources to attract a high calibre of scientists to the University. He was impressed with WACCBIP’s DELTAS Africa Postdoctoral Fellowship programme, which, he said, has created vital employment opportunities for scientists who have completed their doctoral training.
“WACCBIP is demonstrating precisely the impact an African Centre of Excellence can have by way of contributing to the transformation of our University. This is in line with [the University’s vision of] attaining world class status with respect to quality, quantum, and impact of research,” Prof. Dodoo said. “I commend WACCBIP’s leadership, not only for wining handsome grants, but also for their vision in investing in resources to acquire key pieces of equipment and developing one of the best biomedical graduate programmes in Africa.”
He added that WACCBIP played an important role in the reorganisation of ORID’s activities as they allowed for collective cultivation of the Centre’s resources within the University.
President of Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana, Dr. Ben Botwe
President of Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana, Dr. Ben Botwe, was also impressed with WACCBIP’s research excellence in Africa. He said that though concerted research efforts have led to a significant reduction in tropical disease burden, the re-emergence of infectious diseases like Ebola remain a bane to public health. He was optimistic that researchers at WACCBIP would continue to explore and conduct cutting- edge research into curbing these diseases.
“We want to encourage you and hope that research into molecular biology [will include] research into neglected tropical diseases,” Dr. Botwe said. “All the branches and divisions of the industrial pharmaceutical society, as well as academia and research groups, are very much interested in what you are doing.”
The conference featured keynote lectures from world-renowned scientists in the fields of malaria—host-parasite interactions, delivered by Dr. Manoj Duraisingh of the Harvard School of Public Health, and genomics and computational technologies as tools for disease control, delivered by Prof. Dominic Kwiatkowski, Lead at the MRC Centre for Genomics & Global Health at Oxford University. A third keynote lecture delivered by Prof. Pamela Small, Professor Emeritus of Microbiology at the University of Tennessee, covered the pathogenesis of Mycobacterium ulcerans, the causative agent of Buruli ulcer.
Audience and participants at the conference
Other speakers presented cutting-edge research on topics in a diverse range of biomedical science fields including cell biology, drug resistance and discovery, pathogen biology, vaccine discovery & development, and human genetics. Collaborators from top universities in more than 15 countries led plenary sessions and presented data on research into diseases such as HIV, Tuberculosis, and Buruli ulcer. Masters, PhD & postdoctoral fellows at WACCBIP also presented preliminary data on their research projects in oral presentations and poster presentations.
After the conference, best performing students were awarded with certificates and awards. Best oral presentation on microbial ecology was given to Ms. Ethel Blessie Juliet, a PhD fellow; best-performing masters student for oral presentation category was Ms. Christine Achiaa Antwi; and the best-performing PhD student for oral presentation was Mr. Thiam Laty Gaye.
This year’s research conference received support from Carramore International Limited, MES Equipment Limited, ARCOA Ghana Limited, Inqaba Biotec West Africa Limited, and Prime Biolabs Limited.
Participants lauded the excellent organisation of the conference. International visiting collaborators were especially impressed by the level of expertise and the range of knowledge demonstrated by the students at the Centre.
First-time attendee, Dr. Atlanta Cook, a researcher at the Wellcome Trust Centre Cell Biology (WTCCB) at the University of Edinburgh, was impressed with the general quality of the conference and the level of quality of the students’ work.
“This is my first trip here and I just wanted to say thank you for such a warm welcome. It has been a real pleasure.” Dr. Cook said. “This meeting is amazing; I have really enjoyed it. I was impressed with how much effort the students put into their publications; the quality of work. I would have loved more time to look at posters but I think the breadth of Science that has been presented here has been great,” Dr. Cook concluded.