3rd IDeAL Masters Cohort Completes Studentship

August 1, 2019

Our 3rd Masters Cohort just completed their studentship. Read about their ten-month journey which started in September 2018 at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kilifi.

Faith Marura

“At IDeAL, I got trained, mentored and exposed to a lot of opportunities in scientific research and research leadership. I interacted with scientists within the Programme and learnt a lot from them,” says Faith Marura, a master’s student from the University of Nairobi.

She derived her inspiration to pursue Biotechnology from listening to BBC Life Scientific program during her undergraduate studies. “It was inspiring how scientific knowledge is applied in real-life situations especially molecular biology and genetic engineering in solving health problems,” she says. Her project is working on the discovery of antigens that have a potential of being vaccine candidates. “If we develop an effective malaria vaccine we will reduce the number of malaria deaths which will help improve the economy of malaria-endemic countries,” she narrates. Among her memorable moments is a brief but impactful encounter with Prof. Faith Osier. “I admire the strength and power of women in research especially at the international platform,” she adds.

Brian Roy Omondi

“A healthy Africa is a prosperous Africa!” quotes Brian Roy Omondi, a master’s student from Egerton University, who observes that this was his drive to pursue Biochemistry. For his Master’s project, he sought to understand naturally acquired malaria transmission-blocking immunity to fast track the development of malaria blocking vaccines that will help lower malaria transmission. His research could aid in achieving the 90% reduction in mortality and morbidity arising from the disease.

On his most memorable moment during his studentship, he recalls a visit to the Wellcome Centre for Parasitology in Glasgow under the GCRF Exchange Programme. “It not only gave me a chance to train with world experts in molecular parasitology but also to appreciate the global outlook of scientific research,” he states. “The experience at IDeAL has granted me excellent training and mentorship that I am certain has laid a very strong foundation for me as an aspiring scientist. Interacting with so many great people who have made a career in science has reignited my passion for being a research scientist,” adds Brian.”

Andrew Egesa

Andrew Egesa from Kenyatta University is interested in better management of infectious diseases using biotechnological tools. During his studentship, he investigated the performance characteristics of molecular diagnostics of respiratory viruses. The findings will be key in the surveillance and management of these pathogens. His research is geared toward improving the surveillance of respiratory viruses in humans. “My stay at KEMRI-Wellcome Trust has helped me improve my research, writing and laboratory skills, I have also learned how to conduct systematic reviews. Andrew’s most memorable moment was taking part in a workshop on tracing the origin of virus epidemics, he learned how to use biotechnological tools for precise monitoring of the disease outbreaks, and linking such patterns to risk factors.

Everline Onyango

After her cousin who worked in an HIV research lab inspired her, Everline pursued Biochemistry for her Undergraduate and Microbiology at Pwani University for her Masters. She has been exploring the one way through which malaria parasites and the human host interact, enhancing the severity of malaria. Eveline’s most memorable moment during her studentship was the first Bioscience seminar that she attended in the Programme. She adds, “The immunology was so deep that I was off the whole time.” Everline observes that “This was a very good platform to kick-start my career as a researcher. I have gained a lot of scientific skills, effective communication, and the importance of building networks.”

Caroline Mburu

Caroline Mburu’s love for mathematics and thirst for a healthy nation sparked her interest in using statistical and mathematical analytical tools in disease prevention and management. This was her inspiration to pursue a Master’s in Medical Statistics at the University of Nairobi.

“This master’s studentship has helped me understand the evidence required to impact vaccine introduction in a country. It has enabled me to learn the use of mathematical modelling skills in infectious disease control,” she remarks. Her research project is on the cost-effectiveness of introducing a typhoid conjugate vaccine in Kenya. The results achieved will guide the introduction of a vaccine that will cause the eradication of typhoid. “My most memorable moment was my first presentation. I was barely a month old in the Programme. A 3-minute quick-fire presentation to all the supervisors and master’s students describing my project and how I was planning to carry it out. Nerve-wracking!!! But I survived,” she discloses.

Arnold Lambisia

“I remember being introduced to my KEMRI-Wellcome Trust supervisors for the first time. I expected to meet some stern and serious faces but alas! They were very friendly and welcoming,” recalls Arnold Lambisia.

Arnold is pursuing a Master’s in Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), driven by his curiosity on the human biology subject. He wanted to understand how bioinformatics tools are used to analyse big data and be able to answer questions on infectious diseases in their biological, environmental and social contexts. His master’s project is investigating viral and diarrhoea aetiology.

The project is comparing the diagnostic performance of different methods used in investigating what causes diarrhoea. The findings from their project would ensure that future surveillance studies report correct viral diarrhoeal disease burden estimates and transmission patterns for targeted interventions that will help improve the health of children under five years. “As I step out into the research field and strive to be a research leader in Africa and Globally I feel confident as my studentship at IDeAL has horned my scientific skills, I have received mentorship from top research scientists who have paved the way ahead for me,” remarks Arnold.

Peninah Makusa

“What I find interesting about science is that it allows the discovery and exploration of new ideas. I have always wanted to delve deeper into this field as I believe it holds the key towards improved quality of life,” says Peninah Makusa who is pursuing Master of Science in Biotechnology at the University of Nairobi. Her project is on ‘Antibody response to Malaria parasite in an infected and recovering cohort of children in Kilifi, Kenya.’ The project aims to look at antibody responses to parasite antigens at acute disease and during the recovery period to see if the magnitude of antibody responses to the antigen subtypes change over time. The project will inform the development of a more efficacious vaccine against malaria, which is a public health concern, more so in sub-Saharan Africa. “I believe I can do quality research which will impact on the quality of life. I am inspired to develop a career in an area of public health importance such as infectious diseases, and contribute to the field through my research to improve our understanding of the immunity of infectious diseases to inform better vaccine design,” narrates Penninah.

John Mutiso

John Mutiso is pursuing a Master of Science in Medical Statistics at the University of Nairobi hoping to become a research leader in Africa. His master’s project is geared towards developing a data analysis framework that removes technical variance in data got from high throughput tools used in investigating immunity. The tool can be used to pre-determine targets of vaccine development, hence a successful step towards the fight against infectious diseases. His project is anchored on the SDG/Africa 2063/UHC’s agenda of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all. “Ten months at IDeAL and I am better in the application of my speciality in research. I’m motivated and have learned a lot, not only in academics and research but also, interacted with great people,” says John.

Jacqueline Wahura

Jacqueline Wahura is pursuing MSc. Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics. She recalls a visit to the Zoology and Botany departments at Kenyatta University while in high school. “I always had a problem understanding the dichotomous key and I asked one of the doctors to explain it to me. His mastery amazed me and from that moment, I was sure I wanted to pursue a biology-related course.”

Her project is on the whole-genome sequencing of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) using the long-read technology, intending to develop a sequencing protocol for sequencing respiratory viruses using this technology. The overall aim of the project is to use the technology to understand the transmission patterns of respiratory viruses, intending to guide the development of management interventions. “During my project time at KEMRI-Wellcome Trust, I have acquired good laboratory and data analysis skills. I have interacted with re-known scientists in my area of interest. I am better in my presentation skills as compared to when I came. I have also been mentored well in my area; an aspect important for an up-coming scientist,” remarks Jacqueline.

Samuel Nyamweya

Samuel, a master’s student at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University, is researching on health systems, examining the career choices and pathways of graduate nurses trained in semi-urban settings. His project focuses on addressing Human Resource for Health (HRH) challenges in Low Middle-Income Countries and ways of scaling up Universal Health Care. “My desire to pursue health systems research was sparked whilst working for USAID on a Site Improvement Programme focussing on monitoring health systems. I came across various challenges within the health systems, and this triggered the urge to address these challenges from the HRH perspective. With this in mind, I enrolled for a Masters in Public Health,” says Samuel.

Samuel has enjoyed his 10-month studentship and further adds, “My experience at IDeAL influenced my perspective regarding health systems research. I am now more determined, more focused with more energy to advance my career in health systems research to enable me to contribute towards strengthening health systems in Kenya.”