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Hamish Ogston Foundation Platinum Jubilee Early Career Awards Scheme recipients: Kenya

Hamish Ogston Foundation grant awardees Kenya

Kenya Medical Research Institue (KEMRI)

“Investing in early career researchers in this way gives them the opportunity to begin their independent research, becoming a PI on their project, being accountable to a funder and gaining invaluable experience for future.”

Professor Feiko ter Kuile
Chair in Tropical Epidemiology

Guya Cyprian Adala

Project title: Characterisation of resident Wolbachia strains in Anopheles demeilloni from western Kenya highlands for use in malaria biological control.

Anopheles demeilloni mosquitoes were recently shown to harbour high density and stable resident Wolbachia strains, a bacterium that blocks malaria transmission. However, little is known of the biology of these mosquitoes and Wolbachia tissue localisation. The findings of this study will broaden our understanding of Wolbachia in An. demeilloni and contribute towards its development as a malaria vector bio-control tool.

The delivery of this project will equip me with improved technical skills in malaria vector control, research including molecular biology and bio-imaging techniques, making me an accomplished researcher.

Eddy Obala Agwat

Project title: Investigating the cooperative role of Repeated Plasmodium falciparum Malaria and Epstein Barr Virus Sequence Variation on Epstein-Barr Virus’ Lytic Reactivation in Healthy Children from an Area with High Endemic Burkitt Lymphoma Burden

EBV infection is implicated in the etiology of several cancers, such as endemic Burkitt lymphoma (eBL) in western Kenya, where it is associated with repeated Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) malaria. EBV lytic reactivation leads to viral shedding that shapes the burden of EBV-infected cells, hence a potential determinant of EBV burden and pathogenicity. The dynamics of EBV shedding and the determinants, however, are not well characterised among healthy individuals from an area of high Pf intensity and eBL burden, posing a challenge to effective prevention and management of eBL. To address this, my study will characterise EBV shedding in saliva and levels in the blood and sequence the virus to determine genetic differences in an age-structured longitudinal study. The study aims to generate a mathematical model to estimate the cooperative role of individual-level differences in Pf malaria exposure and EBV genetic variation on EBV lytic reactivation. Findings from this study will contribute to knowledge of the impact of Pf malaria and natural viral variation on chronic EBV infection, persistence, and spread. Moreover, it will dissect how Pf-EBV coinfection augments eBL risk and provide evidence-based guidance for effective prevention and management of eBL.

I am passionate about using genomics, bioinformatics, and computational biology to dissect the molecular epidemiology of infectious diseases. This Hamish Ogston Foundation early career grant opens new realms for experience and collaboration for me both within KEMRI and with LSTM. 

Irine Adhiambo Okanda

Project title: Improving the uptake of RTS,S malaria vaccine in an endemic area of western Kenya

I am a researcher at KEMRI CGHR-Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program Evaluation study and a master’s student in Epidemiology and Biostatistics sponsored by European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology. 

My study looks at the RTS,S vaccine - the current malaria intervention targeting vulnerable children under 5 years. However, research findings have shown very poor uptake of the last two doses of the vaccine. This gap is a huge public health concern that needs proper  investigation and intervention. This Hamish Ogston Foundation grant, therefore, enables me to investigate the reasons for low uptake of the RTS,S vaccine, and the findings will inform a framework for improved future uptake. In addition, the grant creates a transition for my career by imparting relevant skills for PhD studies under the guidance of very competent mentorship.

Samuel Gonahasa

Project title: Housing for malaria control in the Lake Victoria Basin – analysis of cross-sectional survey data in Western Kenya

I am a public health physician with a background in medicine and graduate training in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I currently work as Trial Manager and Co-Investigator at the Infectious Diseases Research Collaboration in Uganda, where I conduct malaria research and program evaluations, focusing on malaria epidemiology, impact evaluations of malaria control interventions, and on translational initiatives to strengthen data-driven decision-making at all levels.

I am very pleased to receive the Hamish Ogston Foundation Platinum Jubilee Early Career Grant to conduct research examining the association between housing and malaria in Western Kenya. This is part of a wider initiative to strengthen malaria control in the Lake Victoria basin region. After close to two decades of progress in malaria control (Bhatt, Weiss et al. 2015), sub-Saharan Africa is at a crossroads, with a reversal of gains in some countries, including in East Africa (World Health Organization, 2022). This award will fund my attendance at KEMRI-CGHR to build research links across the borders of Uganda and Kenya, improve my analytical skills, and continue mentorship for a PhD at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Stephen Onyango Okeyo

Project title:Investigating insecticide resistance mechanisms in Anopheles gambiae arising via ingestion and topical exposure

I am a graduate bioinformatics fellow at KEMRI working on the Genomics of African Malaria Vector for NMCP Management of Insecticide Resistance (GAVENIR) Project.

Attractive Targeted Sugar Baits (ATSB) are a novel vector control tool, incorporating insecticides in a bait with sugar solution. They attract and poison both male and female mosquitos. My research involves effectively validating methods of monitoring insecticide resistance emerging from the use of this new tool among the Anopheles gambiae population. During the course of my research, I hope to establish collaborations which will lead to future research.

Benard Omondi Ochieng

Project title: The impact of childhood vaccine and the recently introduced malaria vaccine on under-nutrition in children in Siaya County, Kenya.

Under-nutrition is a major problem in Kenya, especially in rural settings where it is closely associated with infectious diseases including malaria. Siaya County in western Kenya is a malaria endemic region with high prevalence of under-nutrition, 25% stunting, 9% underweight and 3% wasting. In addition, malaria is the leading cause of child morbidity and mortality in the region. However, in areas where malaria prevalence is high, effective malaria control interventions can have a positive impact in children’s nutritional status.

Therefore, following the pilot introduction of the RTS,S malaria vaccine in some parts of Siaya in 2019, we will evaluate the impact of the vaccine and other childhood vaccines on children’s under-nutrition using a case-control study design. The overall objective is to determine the odds ratio for stunting, underweight and wasting between the under-five year olds who received the vaccine vs. non-vaccinated. Further, we will assess demographic and social factors that influence under-nutrition in the county. The study findings will contribute to the current knowledge on the impact of malaria control measures on nutritional status. Moreover, a positive impact will provide public health practitioners with an additional tool for preventing under-nutrition in children living in malaria endemic areas.

Brenda Lynne Onyango

Project title: Using ecological observations to optimize laboratory rearing parameters of Anopheles funestus.

Anopheles funestus is a major malaria vector in Africa and effective control strategies are crucial for reducing malaria in endemic regions. Rearing and breeding An. funestus in the lab is vital for studying vector biology and developing new control methods, however, establishing their colonies has been plagued by two challenges: a very low survival rate at the larval stage and mating problems in cages. I propose to address the first of these challenges through an in-depth study of An. funestus larval ecology to determine the optimum conditions necessary for rearing them.

The Hamish Ogston Foundation grant award is a unique career development and learning opportunity that will allow me to take the lead in designing and implementing a vector ecology study.