Big Congrats to our PhD fellows Dr. Moses Egesa, Dr. Rose Nabatanzi and Dr. Nicholas Bbosa upon this milestone. We are so happy to share in the excitement of your graduation. Best wishes in your next adventure.
Up close with Dr. Rose Nabatanzi
When Dr. Rose Nabatanzi completed her PhD, she was very excited and felt like her hard work had paid off. “What came to my mind was that I finally I get sleep some more, I get to see my kids a bit more and I get to spend some more time at home,” Rose said. But her relief was short lived because every mentor/senior person she talked to about her milestone told her, it’s just the beginning of hard work! “Nevertheless, it’s a great mile stone whose accomplishment filled me with a lot of hope for the future. I saw myself pursuing a research career with confidence. I felt like I can stand amongst academicians and we would speak the same language. I can stand with great scientists in my field of research and make more meaningful contributions. I can compete more favourably for research grants. It means that if I continue working hard, I should be able to achieve my long term career goals.” Rose went on to say.
Dr. Nabatanzi’s doctoral research involved the recovery of innate immune cells [Monocytes, Natural killer (NK) cells and Innate Lymphoid Cells (ILCs)] among long term ART among ART treated virally supressed HIV-infected adults with restored CD4 counts (≥500 cells/µl).
She hypothesized that long term ART treated individuals have poorer innate immune responses than their HIV negative counterparts and this could contribute to persistent dysfunction of T-cells during long-term ART. She found persistent perturbations in the monocyte, NK cell and ILC compartment. The described perturbations included dysregulated subset distributions, impaired upregulation of co-stimulatory molecules, poor cytolytic activity and poor cytokine production despite at least seven years of suppressive ART. She also observed, innate immune cell activation and persistent inflammation. Persistent innate immune cells dysfunction during ART is likely associated with previously observed adaptive immune function defects among ART-treated adults despite “normalization” of peripheral CD4 counts. Given the many roles that innate immune cells are known for, our results suggest that HIV infected individuals may remain susceptible to many opportunistic infections especially those endemic in sub- Saharan Africa where many persons living with HIV initiate ART at very low nadir CD4 count. Commonly implicated drivers of immune activation such as CMV viremia and microbial translocation were absent. Hence the urgent need to understand the drivers of continued perturbations with in the innate immune cell compartment to facilitate production of adjunctive therapies that will improve long term health outcomes in HIV infected individuals.
Dr. Nabatanzi is working on getting started on her post doc and switch gears from HIV care into HIV cure. She is excited about this new journey and hopes to be creative in order to answer pertinent questions in the HIV field as she makes useful collaboration in the field of HIV cure research. She also hopes to visit different laboratories that will further her interest in the field and explore new techniques relevant to her research. As she pursues her post doc, Rose is in the process to becoming a graduate fellow at Makerere university with the hope to eventually get an academic position.
As a wife, mother and researcher, Rose dreaded the burden that a PhD would impose on her finances. All these worries were put to rest when she got funding from the DELTAS as a MUII-plus fellow under the group leader award of Professor Damalie Nakanjako. This funding enabled her to concentrate on her PhD which together with the support and conducive research environment that MUII-plus gives its fellows enabled her complete her PhD in only 3 years. “Indeed, proper funding along a good research environment with high level mentors, provides opportunities that are critical to motivate young scientists to do more research, and excel in their careers.” Rose said.
Up close with Dr. Egesa
“To do a PhD is to challenge oneself. My PhD journey took me through lows (such as failed experiments) and highs (for instance my first publication as the first author in Trends in Parasitology, a cutting-edge Cell Press Journal in addition to back-to-back publications in Parasite Immunology).” said Dr. Moses Egesa. He went on to say, “this PhD experience is unequalled and to successfully complete it, that is truly remarkable.” His work is contributing to the global research for a schistosomiasis vaccine. On a personal level, Dr. Egesa noted that he has improved regarding his understanding of unmet medical challenges, solving these challenges and communicating the research findings. “The knowledge and skills from the PhD are valuable for my career prospects,” he added.
For Dr. Egesa, the PhD milestone is the start of his journey to contribute to society locally and regionally with a hope that the impact is global. He is currently a Scientist with Prof Alison Elliott’s Immunomodulation and Vaccines Programme at MRC/Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit. He is also involved in collaborative projects with the Leiden University Medical Centre (Dr Meta Roestenberg) and the University of York (Dr.KR James Hewitson) to fast track the development of a schistosomiasis vaccine using a controlled human infection model and to unravel the hidden pathology of bone marrow remodeling in schistosomiasis respectively. He is eager to create new partnerships with local and regional institutions. To solve African health problems, biomedical researchers and their respective research institutions in sub-Saharan Africa need to collaborate. Which he believes will unite efforts to solve the huge burdens of infectious diseases.
Dr. Egesa enjoys teaching to pass on his knowledge, experience and skills and to inspire others. Even after his completed PhD, he will continue teaching practical skills for Immunology in the Tropics short course organised by MUII-Plus and the Professional Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (DTM&H) course by LSHTM at UVRI. In addition, he lectures Undergraduate and Masters students at the Makerere University College of Health Science facilitated by MUII-Plus. These courses and lectures train the next generation of immunologists (and physicians under DTM&H) in East Africa. In the medium and long term, he hopes to obtain individual research grants to progress into independent research in infection and immunity. His research interests focus on how the host (human/animal) responds to pathogens (particularly parasites). This will involve a deeper appreciation of disciplines such as immunology, cell and molecular biology and parasitology.
He goes on to acknowledge MUII and MUII-Plus under DELTAS Africa for the support extended to him since 2011. He was first a MUII MSc “Adoptee” and later became a MUII PhD Fellow. The support included, but was not limited to, monthly progress meetings, mentorship sessions, overseas placements and local and international dissemination opportunities. He also received support from TheSchistoVac Consortium under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme. “I acknowledge my Alma mater, Makerere University and my employer Uganda Virus Research Institute, both partners of MUII-Plus,” he said.
Up close with Dr. Nicholas Bbosa
Dr. Nicholas Bbosa, (MUII-plus honorary PhD alumnus) graduated with a PhD in January 2020. He mentioned that the PhD milestone puts him in a position where he is equipped with the knowledge/skills he acquired during his doctoral training. He added that he is ready to apply the knowledge/skills acquired to answer key research questions that will inform public health policies towards the effective control of the HIV epidemic. He went on to say that the PhD milestone, also marks the beginning of an interesting career for him as a scientist.
Dr. Bbosa’s doctoral research involved the use of molecular phylogenetic and modeling approaches to dissect the transmission dynamics and genetic diversity of HIV-1 in the fishing communities of Lake Victoria. Fishing communities are disproportionately affected by HIV-1 relative to the general population however, the viral transmission dynamics in these hard-to-reach fishing villages were not well understood. His research revealed that the fishing communities are net recipients or ‘sinks’ of HIV-1 transmission flow and not a net source of HIV-1 transmission flow to the neighbouring low-prevalence general population located further inland. This implies that the fishing communities around Lake Victoria are not driving the neighboring HIV-1 epidemics irrespective of their high HIV-1 prevalence/incidence and negates the generally held assumption of fishing communities being viral ‘reservoirs’ in the local epidemic. These findings are important in understanding how geographically targeted interventions could be implemented for effective epidemic control in most-at-risk populations. Furthermore, an increase in HIV recombinant forms was observed in the sampled populations. The analyses employed in this research relied heavily on the use of HIV sequence data, viral subtyping methods, Bayesian phylodynamics that allows scientists to estimate the time when the spread of the disease began or when transmission occurred or how fast an epidemic is spreading, phylogeography that enables inferences to be made related to the location where disease spread began and/or in which areas/populations its spreading, transmission network modeling and a wide range of other bioinformatics techniques.
“I am keen on pursuing postdoctoral research that will allow me to continue looking at HIV transmission networks in key populations and general population groups, particularly using phylogenetics, socio-demographic data and well-designed models to identify characteristics of individuals/groups that put them more at higher risk of HIV infection (sinks), at higher risk of infecting others (sources) or both (hubs), and be able to generate information that will be useful towards HIV prevention.” Dr. Bbosa noted. He went on to say that he would like to do more work in analyzing future epidemic trends and predict intervention outcomes based on real viral sequence data and simulated analyses. He is currently involved in similar work with the Phylogenetics And Networks in Generalised Epidemics in Africa (PANGEA) consortium.
As a MUII-plus honorary PhD alumnus, Dr. Bbosa benefited from the DELTAS training program through its bioinformatics training grants that allowed him receive mentorship from experts in the field and is very grateful for that.