GCRF-Crick African Network

Lead Research Organisation: The Francis Crick Institute
Department Name: Research

Abstract

The extreme poverty faced by many people in Sub-Saharan Africa contributes to very high rates of infectious diseases, as well as to chronic diseases linked to these. Scientific research is needed to address these challenges, however, Africa also faces a shortage of knowledge, skills and research facilities, which compounds the problem. Our strategy to tackle this problem is to identify a group of African scientists who already have PhDs and show outstanding talent, and intensively develop their careers via targeted, high-level training and mentorship. The idea is to foster the next generation of leadership at key African research institutions that are well-positioned to advance science on the continent. The ultimate aim is to improve the health of the people of Africa and beyond.

To achieve this, we will establish a new initiative, the 'Crick African Network' (CAN), which involves collaboration between the UK and Africa. The network's goal will be to help build capacity in African institutions to conduct research into infectious diseases that occur in poverty-stricken areas. The network will formally link the Francis Crick Institute (Crick) in the UK with a select group of African-based research organisations, namely: the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town, South Africa, MRC Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), the University of Ghana, and the West African Global Health Alliance (WAGHA) that includes MRC Gambia and University Cheikh Anta Diop, Sénégal.

These partners will together provide an 'African Career Accelerator' programme that provides high-level training for talented African scientists. The programme will offer competitive fellowships that allow the scientists to spend time at Crick in the UK, receiving advanced training, with access to state-of-the-art Science Technology Platform (STP) facilities and expertise. It will then help them to re-establish their research portfolios back at their African institutions. We envisage ongoing mentorship , and collaboration with, these future research leaders to encourage lasting, mutually beneficial, scientific partnerships. In conjunction with this, the network will host introductory workshops in key African locations, to inform and inspire infectious diseases researchers from those regions. It will also hold annual scientific meetings for the four-year duration of the programme to encourage exchange of scientific learning, grow collaborations and engage with relevant health sector stakeholders.

By intensively developing this select group of up-and-coming researchers, connecting them internationally, supporting them with world-class expertise and positioning them in strong African institutions that can serve as hubs of scientific excellence within the continent, we hope they will become a powerful cadre of internationally connected research professionals with the expertise and experience needed to tackle Africa's infectious disease challenges. The UK-African network formed will also be well positioned to respond, through biomedical research, to pressing poverty-related health needs affecting the welfare and economic development of Africa.

Technical Summary

The extreme poverty faced by many people in Sub-Saharan Africa contributes to very high rates of infectious diseases, as well as to chronic diseases linked to these. Scientific research is needed to address these challenges, however, Africa also faces a shortage of knowledge, skills and research facilities, which compounds the problem. Our strategy to tackle this problem is to identify a group of African scientists who already have PhDs and show outstanding talent, and intensively develop their careers via targeted, high-level training and mentorship. The idea is to foster the next generation of leadership at key African research institutions that are well-positioned to advance science on the continent. The ultimate aim is to improve the health of the people of Africa and beyond.

To achieve this, we will establish a new initiative, the 'Crick African Network' (CAN), which involves collaboration between the UK and Africa. The network's goal will be to help build capacity in African institutions to conduct research into infectious diseases that occur in poverty-stricken areas. The network will formally link the Francis Crick Institute (Crick) in the UK with a select group of African-based research organisations, namely: the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town, South Africa, MRC Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), the University of Ghana, and the West African Global Health Alliance (WAGHA) that includes MRC Gambia and University Cheikh Anta Diop, Sénégal.

These partners will together provide an 'African Career Accelerator' programme that provides high-level training for talented African scientists. The programme will offer competitive fellowships that allow the scientists to spend time at Crick in the UK, receiving advanced training, with access to state-of-the-art Science Technology Platform (STP) facilities and expertise. It will then help them to re-establish their research portfolios back at their African institutions. We envisage ongoing mentorship , and collaboration with, these future research leaders to encourage lasting, mutually beneficial, scientific partnerships. In conjunction with this, the network will host introductory workshops in key African locations, to inform and inspire infectious diseases researchers from those regions. It will also hold annual scientific meetings for the four-year duration of the programme to encourage exchange of scientific learning, grow collaborations and engage with relevant health sector stakeholders.

By intensively developing this select group of up-and-coming researchers, connecting them internationally, supporting them with world-class expertise and positioning them in strong African institutions that can serve as hubs of scientific excellence within the continent, we hope they will become a powerful cadre of internationally connected research professionals with the expertise and experience needed to tackle Africa's infectious disease challenges. The UK-African network formed will also be well positioned to respond, through biomedical research, to pressing poverty-related health needs affecting the welfare and economic development of Africa.

Planned Impact

The Crick African Network (CAN) will promote economic development and welfare in Africa by growing research capacity in infectious diseases of poverty. The particular focus will be on HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria, which account for a massive disease burden in Africa.

An estimated 25.5 million of the 36.7 million people globally living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV/AIDS may have slowed economic growth by up to 1% per annum in affected countries and, by killing young adults, reduces the tax base thus compromising ability to spend on infrastructure such as education and other health services not related to AIDS. TB remains a global problem, responsible for 1.5 million deaths in 2015. A disproportionately high incidence of TB occurs in Africa because of the co-incident HIV-1 pandemic and 75% of the world's cases of HIV associated TB occur on the continent. Every year TB causes around $12 billion to disappear from the global economy. In 2015, there were 214 million cases of malaria worldwide resulting in an estimated 438,000 deaths, 90% of which occurred in children in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria has a major negative effect on economic development. In Africa, it is estimated to result in losses of $12 billion a year due to increased healthcare costs, lost ability to work, and negative effects on tourism. Whilst significant strides have been made in understanding these diseases during the last couple of decades, major scientific challenges remain.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces a shortage of knowledge, skills and research facilities to respond to these challenges. We believe our strategy to develop the next generation of research leadership in endemic countries, at African institutions well-positioned to advance science on the continent, is key for long-term success in combatting diseases of poverty.

The CAN programme is relevant broadly across the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but is particularly responsive to SDGs 3, 4 and 9. By addressing key unanswered questions to understand how to reduce the impact of major poverty-related infectious disease in Africa (and indeed the world), the CAN programme directly addresses SDG 3 ('Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages'). The focus of the CAN capacity building strategy to develop talented postdoctoral researchers for the benefit of the African skills bank, and thereby economy, responds to SDG 4 ('Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all'). Similarly, the CAN programme contributes directly to SDG 9 sub-goal 9.5, which articulates the need to enhance scientific research, in particular in developing countries, including encouraging innovation and substantially increasing the number of research and development workers.

Africa suffers a disproportionate disease burden. For each of the fields of biomedical research covered by the fellowships and collaborations established through this network, the interactions will facilitate the transfer and expansion of knowledge in that field. This will be of benefit to academic and industrial researchers within the relevant fields and may ultimately contribute to the development of new interventions and treatments for high-priority poverty-related diseases. The advancement of medical therapies will have the potential to improve health for the huge numbers of people affected, including, but also beyond, African countries.

Publications

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Mannell J (2018) UK's role in global health research innovation. in Lancet (London, England)

 
Description African Research Excellence Fund 
Organisation Africa Research Excellence Fund
Country Gambia 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have agreed to liaise over the provision of workshops and Fellowship support
Collaborator Contribution They have agreed to liaise over the provision of workshops and Fellowship support
Impact None yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description TReND 
Organisation University of Ghana
Department West Africa Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens
Country Ghana 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A Crick PI, Dr Lucia Prieto-Godino is also the founder/ Director of an NGO called 'TReND' (Teaching and Research in Natural Sciences for Development in Africa). Through connections made through the Crick African Network, Dr Prieto-Godino will deliver a training workshop in partnership with WACCBIP at the University of Ghana to train scientists from across the region in bioscience skills.
Collaborator Contribution WACCBIP at the University of Ghana will host the TReND workshop in Autumn 2018.
Impact The output will be the delivery of a workshop, and at the current time the planning and organisation of the workshop is ongoing.
Start Year 2018
 
Description School robotics competition attending scientific symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The finalist teams of a inter-school robotics competition attended the scientific symposium at the event held in the Gambia, hosted by the MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM. At the end of the scientific symposium, the winning team of the robotics competition was announced and then the scientist participants of the symposium engaged with the students, discussing areas of overlap of robotics with the biosciences, and school children had a chance to find out about careers in science in the Gambia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018