Neurosciences: Bringing the TReND to Africa
The Lindau-alumni founded NGO TReND in Africa is dedicated to improve research conditions on the continent.
Whilst studying for her PhD in neurosciences at Cambridge University, Lindau alumna, Lucia Prieto-Godino (2014, physiology/medicine), met Sadiq Yusuf and was shocked to discover “that many East African neuroscientists were still using expensive rat models for their research despite extreme funding shortages”. This prompted Lucia to promote invertebrate models, commencing with the Drosophila (fruit-fly), as a relatively inexpensive alternative for neuroscience research and teaching in Africa.
Through innovative thinking, determination and a willingness to challenge the unknown, Lucia and Tom Baden (also a fellow Lindau Alumnus ) formed a strategic alliance with Professor Sadiq Yusuf (Head of the Medical School at Kampala International University [KIU]) to plan and implement an inaugural three-week course for post-graduates at the KIU campus in Ishaka, Uganda. The course, entitled ‘Insect Neuroscience and Drosophila Neurogenetics’ utilized a number of generous donations to fund scholarships and enable researchers from a variety of African countries to participate free-of-charge. Donated equipment and reagents were also utilized and a supportive team of volunteer researchers from Uganda, Europe and the United States also made the trek to Ishaka to ensure the smooth running of this pioneering course. Unsurprisingly, the course proved to be a great success and Lucia, Tom and Sadiq subsequently co-founded the “TReND in Africa” charity to conduct similar projects throughout sub-Saharan Africa with the sole aim of improving university-level scientific education and research.
To this date, two more ‘Insect Neuroscience’ courses have since taken place in Uganda and the fourth (to be hosted in August, 2014) will witness the expansion of TReND’s initiatives to Tanzania (hosted at the University of Dar es Salaam). Lucia’s vision is that “these courses focus on inexpensive ways of doing great science by making use of inexpensive model organisms whenever appropriate and open source technologies, as well as important doses of imagination and improvisation” . Indeed troubleshooting of unexpected problems on the fly is a very important part of the course, as it builds student’s confidence in that despite the extra challenge of doing science in under resourced conditions, important discoveries can be made with a bit of perspicacity and willpower. Lucia smiles as she talks about an event during one of the courses: “For example, once, in the middle of an experiment there was a long power cut, rather than let the experiment get ruined, we troubleshot the problem with the students by first assembling several 9V batteries to be able to finish the experiment in the lab, and then we drove by motorbike with the experiment in our hands to the closest hospital with a powered emergency room and asked them to let us plug the equipment to be able to visualize the result”
With an ever-growing, world-wide team of volunteers, TReND now runs other courses, including molecular biology (Mekelle, Ethiopia) and bioinformatics (Icipe, Kenya), attracting students from across Africa. According to Tom, “these students are not the only ones who learn a lot; volunteers pick up a wide range of practical skills, from operating back-up generators in electricity outages to hacking and soldering equipment where necessary!”
TReND also continues to support the establishment of laboratories through fundraising and the collection and distribution of donated (and, importantly, fully functional) equipment. Latest technologies, such as 3D printing and open source technology, are being promoted to facilitate lower-cost solutions for teaching materials and apparatuses such as micromanipulators, microscopes and high-precision pipettes.
Adding further string’s to their proverbial bow, TReND’s neuroscience outreach programme is another inspiring initiative driven entirely by TReND alumni. This program aims to introduce the field of neuroscience; aspects of brain diseases; and the role of neuroscientists in society, to primary, secondary and university students (as well as their teachers!). To date seven events across Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana have reached over 800 students and teachers and the list is growing!
Most recently, in June, 2014, Aderemi Aladeokin, a scientist from Nigeria, was the inaugural recipient of the TReND-ADInstruments Scholarship to attend a 5-day CrawFly Neurobiology Educators Course at the prestigious Cornell University, USA. According to Aderemi “the co-sponsorship allowed [him] to be a beneficiary of a technology-transfer platform that will further lead to much more fruitful collaborations with the world-class neurobiologists that form the faculty that taught the 2014 CrawFly course. These will definitely culminate in improved research and teaching output as far as neuroscience education in Africa is concerned.”
Want to get involved?
If you share TReND’s enthusiasm for building scientific research capacity in sub-Saharan Africa, then there are a number of ways you can get involved! Working in an exciting new environment, highly trained volunteers can really help move academic and research programmes forward, and TReND can help link research scientists with African host universities. Similarly, fundraising, donations and corporate support are all vital components that bolster TReND’s drive to establish high quality research laboratories at African universities. For more details and to take part, please visit our website or contact Lucia and Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was co-authored by Emily Dunne & Peter Parslow, both currently volunteering for TReND in Africa.