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WACCBIP: The pearl on the hill

Folklore has it that “Legon” means ‘hill’  in ‘Ga’, the language of the indigenes of the general Accra Area, so loosely translated The University of Ghana- Legon may mean The University of Ghana on the hill.

For a long time now this peerless institution of learning has occupied the coveted position of ‘primus inter pares’. Across Africa and even beyond, Legon , as it is affectionately called by alumni, students and faculty, in fact by next –to- everyone, also enjoys much repute. Anecdotal proof of its caliber can be drawn from the fact that it has produced almost all the Presidents of the Republic of Ghana.

Noteworthy though is the fact that this institution was considered the bastion of the study of Liberal Arts with a sprinkling of science courses, while the equally important Study of Physical Sciences was the preserve of the now rechristened Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, also with a symbolic addition of Arts courses.

Times have changed and with it too the number of and mix of courses in the Higher Institutions of Learning. Today an enquiry at the National Accreditation Board is the only safe chance of knowing the true number of such institutions.

In all this frenzy, proliferation and mélange of disciplines, the University of Ghana still occupies pride of place, not only in its traditional core areas of study but significantly in the newer areas of study.

One such success story is the WEST AFRICA CENTRE for CELL BIOLOGY of INFECTIOUS PATHOGENS (WACCBIP). As is typical of real serious intellectual pursuit, WACCBIP has not put much effort into making ceremony about its existence, only spending such time in the critical remit of scientific investigation and training, among others. This is how it came into being;

WACCBIP received National Accreditation in 2014 and Advanced International Accreditation, by the Royal Society of Biology, UK, in 2016.

Selected as World Bank African Centre of Excellence, WACCBIP will receive $8m over four years to:

– Provide Masters, PhD training, and targeted short-courses in Cell & Molecular Biology

– Conduct applied research into biology and pathogenesis of tropical diseases

– Increase research output and innovation by enhancing collaboration among biomedical scientists and industry/private sector leaders in the sub-region

In response to the World Bank’s call for proposals for African Centres of Excellence, the University of Ghana proposed the establishment of the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) at Legon.

The proposal was led by faculty from the Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology (BCMB), and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), with support from staff of the University of Ghana Computing Systems (UGCS).  After two rounds of evaluation, including review of the written proposal and a site visit to evaluate existing infrastructure and interview the project leader, the World Bank accepted the proposal for the establishment of WACCBIP in November 2013.  Subsequently, the World Bank has committed $8 million to support WACCBIP through a financing agreement with the Government of Ghana.

In 2015, the Wellcome Trust DELTAS provided additional $ 7.8mover5years to:

– strengthen research:

– in human genetics, host-pathogen interactions, immunogenetics, genomics

– to include non-communicable diseases

– into innovative research for molecular diagnosis and drug development

– expand regional network beyond West Africa, to include East and Southern Africa

– develop a post-doctoral programme for leadership development and sustaining research momentum in newly qualified PhDs

– provide additional PhD fellowships

– increase quality of supervision and mentorship through a Student Visitor programme, where students spend 6-months in UK or US institutions for experiential learning

MISSION AND OBJECTIVESThe mission of the proposed Centre is to improve diagnosis, prevention and control of infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa by providing advanced level training and research excellence on the cell and molecular biology of infectious pathogens.  The key objectives of the Centre are to:

– Train high level health professionals and biomedical scientists on cell and molecular biology of infectious pathogens through MPhil, PhD and Post-doctoral programmes.

– Serve as a core facility with state-of-the art biomedical laboratories to support infectious diseases research in the sub-region.

– Establish a Biomedical High Performance Computing Unit to provide cluster computing services to promote teaching, research, and dissemination of information among health professionals and academics in the sub-region.

– Increase research output and innovation by serving as a focal point for enhancing collaboration among biomedical scientists and biotechnology companies in the sub-region.

The centre is led by Prof. Gordon A. Awandare as the Director and is assisted by a stellar collection of academics and professionals.

WACCBIP has built partnerships both regionally and on the international plane:

Medical Research Council (MRC) unit, the Gambia (Alfred Ngwa Amanbua)

Malaria Research and Training Center (MRTC) at the University of Science, Techniques, and Technology, in Bamako, Mali (Mahamadou Diakite)

Centre National de Recherche et de Formation sur le Paludisme (CNRFP), Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (Sodiomon Sirima)

Unit for Research on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, Centre MURAZ Research Institute (CMRI), Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso (Mamoudou Cisse)

Center Suisse de Recherche Scientifique (CSRS), La Cote d’Ivoire (Bassirou Bonfoh)

Institute of Child Health, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan (Olukemi Amodu)

Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kilifi, Kenya (Faith Osier)

University of Cape Town (UCT), Division of Human Genetics, Faculty of Health Sciences (Ambroise Wonkam)

Each institution brings complementary expertise and research facilities and is committed to hosting trainees.

WACCBIP also benefits from existing research collaborations with strategic international partners in the UK and USA:

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (David Conway)

University of Cambridge (Mark Carrington)

University of Oxford (Dominic Kwiatkowski, Keith Gull)

WT Sanger Institute/MalariaGEN (Dominic Kwiatkowski, Julian Rayner, Oliver Billker)

University of Pittsburgh (Solomon Ofori-Acquah)

American Society for Cell Biology (Kirk Deitsch, Dick McIntosh)

University of New Mexico (Douglas J. Perkins)

University of Copenhagen (Lars Hviid, Jurgen Kurtzhals)

 

Several faculty in each institution have committed to:

-co-supervising trainees

-hosting students in their labs through Student Visitor fellowships

-Serving on thesis advisory committees

-Serving as external reviewers for trainee research proposals and thesis reports

O PP O R T U N I T I E S

Short-term programmes

2-4 weeks long workshops/courses

Target: professionals in the health delivery sector, including physicians, pharmacists, and senior laboratory personnel

Objective: to improve their knowledge of disease pathogenesis and modern methods of diagnosis and treatment

Medium-term programmes

3-6 month long research internships

Target: trainee biomedical scientists and hospital lab technologists

Objective: to provide experiential training on research design, specialized techniques, team building

Long-term programmes

2- 4 year graduate programs

Masters (MSc and MPhil)

PhD

Post-doctoral

Target: career biomedical scientists in Universities and Health Research Institutions

Programmes at WACCBIP/Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology:

MSc Biochemistry

MPhil Biochemistry

MPhil Molecular Biology

MPhil Molecular Cell Biology of Infectious Diseases

PhD Biochemistry

PhD Molecular Cell Biology of Infectious Diseases

Suffice it to say that WACCBIP is a timely response to a perennial dearth of serious research into critical health challenges. That it has a wide range of collaborations and partnerships only adds to its strength and potential.

Finally it must be said that it has received rather considerable support and funding from around the world and that can only be indicative of the confidence reposed in the faculty  and staff and the conviction in the imperative of its raison d’etre.

By Kasise Ricky Peprah|3news.com|Ghana

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