The Uganda Schistosomiasis Multidisciplinary Research Center (U-SMRC) has been established to build expertise and understanding of the underlying biological determinants of severe schistosomal morbidity and to develop and identify appropriate interventions for prevention and management of this important disease.
OUR SPECIFIC AIMS
To compare early-life Schistosoma mansoni (Sm) infection and Sm-specific immune responses between Lake Albert (LA) and Lake Victoria (LV) regions and identify co-exposures that modulate Sm-specific immune responses and morbidity risk.
NEWS & INSIGHTS
Understanding the process for obtaining Nagoya protocol approval in Uganda: an engagement with the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology
Are you a researcher or a research team wondering if you will need the Nagoya protocol approval to transfer genetic samples outside Uganda for whatever reason? You may find our experience of obtaining the Nagoya protocol approval to transfer snail and worm genetic material valuable. We are a strong team of scientists at different career levels and research administrators at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) and the Vector Control Division (VCD) at the Ministry of Health, in partnership with other international universities, exploring why there is a difference in Bilharzia severity among Ugandan populations living beside Lake Albert and the Albert Nile in West and Northern Uganda (LA region), compared to those of the Lake Victoria (LV region) in Central and Eastern Uganda. Funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), capacity building is a vital aspect of our work, and as such our enthusiastic students obtain placements to study and work abroad in world class laboratories of our partners institutions such as the University of Leiden and University of Glasgow. Likewise, we warmly welcome students seeking placements from the region and the rest of the world. Foreign lab placements may require the students to carry certain genetic materials from Uganda to their respective countries, in our case our students will be required to ship snail and worm genetic material to our partners in Belgium and the UK. We had earlier obtained all the local research clearance for our study to start data collection in the field but were ambivalent about if we were exempted from the Nagoya protocol. Subsequently, we invited Mr Innocent Akampurira, the Access, Benefit and Sharing (ABS) Coordinator at the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology (UNCST) to enlighten the team about the process for obtaining the Nagoya protocol approval in Uganda. UNCST is at the forefront, issuing permits for research and ABS, ensuring that agreements contain adequate provisions for sharing benefits, and establishing a database to track these agreements. The regulatory body is also in charge of monitoring the use of genetic resources within and outside Uganda, ensuring that the country keeps representative samples and specimens, and overseeing compliance regarding technology transfer and information exchange. The captivating half- day engagement started with the U-SMRC project summary from the study Principal Investigator, Prof. Alison Elliott, followed by a presentation from Mr Akampurira. He stated that in Uganda, the Nagoya protocol had been in effect since 2014, and is operated in conjunction with other regulations, such as the national access to benefit-sharing guidelines and the national access to genetics regulations. Its primary purpose is to regulate both academic and non-academic/commercial research involving the transfer of genetic material outside Uganda. The Nagoya protocol, he explained, was not just another set of rules but rather a legal framework aligned with the Convention on Biological Diversity's objectives: the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. The process for approval was rather perplexing at the start, but Mr Akampurira outdid himself by explaining all that is required of us to obtain the approvals. First, we had to obtain all the ethical approvals from UNCST, which we had done. Second, we needed to fill in the relevant forms including the "Prior Informed Consent" (PIC), a formal agreement between the researchers and the resource owners, ensuring that the resources were being used with respect and fairness; the Mutually Agreed Terms (MAT) to ensure fair and equitable benefit sharing; the Material Transfer Agreement (MTA), negotiated between the holder of an access permit and a relevant lead agency or community on terms of transfer and use of genetic material and ultimately, the Access Permit. All these form templates can be found at https://wipolex-res.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/ug/ug021en.html The complex part, he emphasised, for our study would be identifying the owner of the snails and the worms. The resource owner could be an individual, government entity or the community. For our study, we agreed to record the VCD as the owner, for they hold the surveillance mandate for all vector borne diseases. We are currently in the process of filling in the required forms and hope to obtain our approvals in the shortest possible time. We are excited to keep you posted about how our approval process turned out with UNCST in our next installment. Special thanks go to Mr Innocent Akampurira and the entire team at U-SMRC. A recording of this is insightful session can be accessed at; https://zoom.us/rec/play/gOiFOEx9ya8rnqePcrjrnVP34hQ3Wqc13rl1GUsGJxXKr7eFZDN4HK-XCnCMx5eGInfIu0xK6Q5h_7yt.IasejaC92ULkl19i?autoplay=true&startTime=1696226323000 Passcode: eya$*ZM8 Written by Victoria Bukirwa and Ritah Namagembe
A glimpse into the heart of biomedical research: participant recruitment on the shores of Lake Albert
As an Immunology Masters student eager to delve into the world of biomedical research and public health, I recently started my yearlong work placement at the MRC/UVRI & LSHTM Uganda Research Unit. Having Schistosomiasis as the main focus of my research, I was invited to come along on a 12-day field trip to the shores of Lake Albert for a Uganda Schistosomiasis Multi-disciplinary Research Center (U-SMRC) study to gain a deeper understanding of the current situation surrounding Schistosomiasis in rural Uganda, and to experience a vital step in biomedical research studies - recruitment and sampling of participants. The heart of any scientific study lies in its participants, making participant recruitment a vital part of the process, including identifying suitable candidates, obtaining informed consent, and ensuring their commitment to the study. The participants for the study were recruited in the villages surrounding the Buhuka Health Center III where were based, and they were then brought to the health center for assessment and subsequent sampling of blood, urine and stool. I had the privilege to shadow and work alongside experienced researchers as they engaged with the local communities, assessed whether the participants were deemed suitable to partake in the study, and processed the samples in the laboratory for diagnostics and storing for subsequent in-depth analysis back at the institute. [caption id="attachment_2839" align="alignnone" width="986"] Immunology laboratory[/caption] I took great interest in the laboratory diagnostics department and spent several days working alongside the lab team to test the samples for diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and malaria, and to prepare them for analysis back at the research unit. I deeply appreciated the team’s willingness and time they invested to guide me through the processes, for instance through performing quality controls on the malaria diagnoses I conducted. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to work with the team responsible for the processing of the participants’ stool samples. This involved testing the samples for parasitic infections, processing them to enable miracidia hatching, and the storage of the miracidia for subsequent DNA analysis. The prevalence of Schistosomiasis within the participant samples was very high, to the point where it became unusual if someone was not currently infected with the parasite. It was good to get a view on Schistosomiasis both on a public health level as well as through the microscope. Before this trip, I was aware of the persistence of Schistosomiasis as a significant health concern in (rural) Uganda. However, to witness the harsh realities of the high prevalence of this parasite infection amongst other infectious diseases such as HIV, on a firsthand basis, brought home the gravity of the situation in a way that no story or book ever could. The experiences underscored the challenges faced by the local community on a daily basis, such as an inaccessibility to clean water and a lack of suitable interventions, thus highlighting the urgency and importance of the ongoing research and intervention efforts. Throughout the field trip, I had the privilege of helping and working alongside a team of dedicated scientists and doctors who generously shared their knowledge and expertise. Their dedication to the research was strongly present in all aspects of their work, which in some cases lasted until late at night. This together with their strong passion for biomedical research and a big heart for the local communities, served as great inspiration for my future career aspirations. It therefore goes without saying that this field trip with a team of the Uganda Virus Research Institute(UVRI) has been an invaluable experience that has deepened my understanding of a vital part of good scientific research and has given me a good insight into the current challenges and severity thereof, that rural Uganda faces when it comes to Schistosomiasis. Other than the enriching research experiences during the field trip, I had the privilege of encountering some remarkable wildlife and witnessing amazing views of the region. Almost every morning, a sunbird stopped by my window to grace my day, and in the evening the fireflies would come and light up the greenery next to where we stayed. [caption id="attachment_2840" align="alignnone" width="943"] Sunbird[/caption] As our accommodation was a half hour drive further up from the valley where the health clinic is, every morning we would drive down from the hills into the East African Rift Valley. The drive was one of my favourite parts as from the top of the hill, you got a view from the entire valley with its villages nestled along the shore of Lake Albert, the vast expanse of the lake itself, and even the faraway hills of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the other side. All this together made for a breath-taking view, one I will certainly not forget for a long time to come. [caption id="attachment_2837" align="alignnone" width="1143"] View over valley[/caption] I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to have learned from experts in the field. The experience has not only reaffirmed my commitment to a career in medical research and public health, but it has also shown me the beauty of the Ugandan countryside with its spectacular views and wildlife. I look forward to applying the knowledge and insights gained during this field trip to try and make a meaningful difference in global health, like the U-SMRC team currently is doing. Written by: Joas Sterk
A perspective of a project officer In the pursuit of our second phase, after having pinpointed the communities to engage with, the next crucial stride involved delving into the very households from which our participants would be randomly chosen. Under the guidance of the esteemed Dr. Joseph Baluku, our team embarked on a lengthy journey to Hoima, a journey that led us through the enchanting Bugoma Forest all the way to Kyangwali. This adventure commenced with a warm welcome from Rev. Father Rupire Isingoma at the serene Mary Immaculate Guest House, providing a much-needed respite from the fatigue wrought by the extended drive. Our workweek commenced on a delectable note, with a sumptuous breakfast at the charming Libore Hotel, conveniently situated across from the guest house. The charismatic leader of our team orchestrated a meeting that convened minds to strategize the approach for the four chosen villages within Buhuka. This preparation involved the careful arrangement of logistics, including notebooks, rulers, tablets, and pens – all of which proved invaluable in facilitating the upcoming endeavors. The path before us led down the escarpment, and before venturing further, we made our inaugural stop at Buhuka Health Centre III. Here, we introduced ourselves to Mr. Innocent Ahaisibwe, the Health Centre In-charge, who graciously reached out to the Village Health Teams (VHTs) tasked with guiding us through the intricate maze of households. Yet, fate had it that most of these diligent individuals were engrossed in the Yellow Fever Mass Immunization campaign upon our arrival, causing a minor wrinkle in our plans. Gratitude washed over us when we discovered that one of our target villages, Kiina, had already been confirmed the previous day. With our guide from the VHT, we embarked on a journey through Kiina, a village characterized by its sparse population and abundant vegetation, ideal for free-ranging cattle. As we traversed the village, our eyes were captivated by the sight of robust cattle grazing amidst the verdant shrubbery. Our journey led us to the Local Council (LC) Offices, where we were cordially welcomed by the chairperson. Here, we gleaned valuable statistics and records pertaining to the village, a trove of information that enabled us to pinpoint households housing children aged one to four – our specific focus group for this phase. In the initial days at Kiina, we moved as a united front, acquainting ourselves with the intricate mapping tools and cultivating a sense of unity and purpose. As the week unfolded, we divided into two cohorts, each led by the astute Dr. Joseph Baluku and the capable Mr. Robert Kizindo. The sun, bearing down over Lake Albert, provided a vivid reminder of the saying, "The higher you go, the cooler it becomes," offering a quirky twist as it seemed to get hotter the further we descended the escarpments. Kicking off the second week was no small feat, as our energy waned, but true to the adage, where there's a will, there's a way. Following a hearty breakfast at the renowned Libore Hotel, we strategized our approach for Nyalebe, our second focal village. Situated at the far end of the Lake Albert shoreline, Nyalebe's remote location was matched only by the daunting journey that led to it, complete with steep gullies that tested the mettle of even the toughest travelers. Nyalebe presented a striking contrast to Kiina, seemingly devoid of bustling activity or economic pursuits. The calmness of this community, surviving without the usual hustle and bustle, left us in a state of awe. Unlike Kiina, Nyalebe lacked up-to-date village registers, necessitating a door-to-door exploration to identify children within our desired age range. With the guidance of two diligent VHTs, we navigated this intricate task, albeit with added complexity compared to our earlier venture. As the week culminated, our team carved out a moment to capture the breathtaking scenery of Lake Albert from the vantage point of the Buhuka escarpment. Regrettably, my expedition concluded at this juncture, my journey back to Kampala aboard the renowned Link Bus calling for my departure. Alas, my experience with the Link Bus was less than favorable, as the drivers' audacious driving tendencies left much to be desired! In light of our observations, U-SMRC is poised to fulfill the target population sample size for our comparative research study. Written by : Raymond Muganyizi
Welcome to the Career Development section of our website, where we are excited to showcase the diverse and impactful projects undertaken by our talented PhD fellows.
In this section, we provide a glimpse into the cutting-edge research our PhD fellows are engaged in, highlighting their innovative ideas, and the potential implications of their work.
This project is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, under award U01AI168609.