An African Academy of Sciences mentorship programme has enabled Lucy Macharia, a masters graduate from Kenya’s University of Nairobi, to find a PhD scholarship and carve her career path.
When my masters supervisor Dr Marianne Mureithi, a lecturer at University of Nairobi, encouraged me to enrol for an African Academy of Sciences mentoring programme for stem cell research I had no idea that destiny awaited me.
My masters in medical microbiology focused on cancer research. Regenerative medicine and stem cell biology was a completely new field of research to me but in it I have found a home and a path that I would like my career to take.
The workshop on Training and Mentoring African Scientists in Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research that the AAS organised in 2014 convinced me that this field not only offers an opportunity for contributing to reducing Africa’s disease burden but also for growing my career.
The AAS organised the workshop as part of the Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Research (CBRM), an initiative to mentor young scientists in cell biology and regenerative medicine in Africa.
I was paired with mentors, Professors Vivaldo Moura-Neto, who works at Brazil’s Instituto Estadual do Cerebro Paulo Niemeyer, Jose Garcia Abreu and Fabio Almeida Mendes from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences. The initiative also paid for me to travel to the University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to spend a month at my mentors’ laboratory.
It is in this programme that I learnt of the opportunities that stem cell research provides in treating a myriad of diseases including cancer. This in turn led me to develop a PhD proposal with the help of Prof Moura-Neto on the study of tumoral stem cells from glioblastoma and medulloblastoma and their contributions to diagnostics and therapy. Glioblastoma multiform is the most common and aggressive brain tumour while medulloblastoma, a brain tumour common among children, is difficult to detect and can lead to a delayed diagnosis. This study will focus on using stem cells to improve the diagnosis and survival rates of brain cancer patients. Non communicable diseases are on the rise in Africa and I hope that research like mine will assist in reducing their burden.
The CBRM initiative not only opened my eyes to a new career field but provided opportunities to network that have opened doors for my PhD studies. My mentor in Brazil helped me to develop and apply for a PhD scholarship at the University of Rio de Janeiro where I began my studies in August 2015.
I plan to return to Kenya when I complete my studies in four years and to join my Kenyan alma mater and start my own stem cell research group so I can, in turn, mentor other young researchers.
I didn’t know this before I enrolled for the AAS workshop but a career in stem cells is my destiny. I am grateful to the AAS for providing a platform for me and other young scientists to define our career paths.