About the AESA-RISE Postdoctoral trainees

 

Gaymary George Bakari, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physiology, Biochemistry and Pharmacology, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania

Gaymary George Bakari is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physiology, Biochemistry and Pharmacology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Sokoine University of Agriculture. She completed her PhD at the Sokoine University in 2014 and her research work was titled “Biological activity of extracts from Commiphora swynnertonii against microbes of veterinary importance in chickens” which was funded by the Carnegie RISE -AFNNET Network.  

Bakari’s area of interest is natural medicinal plants. She is currently supervising two PhD students who are working on two medicinal plants used to control rats and to treat small ruminants’ morbillivirus. Bakari has presented her research findings at several conferences and workshops in more than 18 peer-reviewed articles in reputable academic journals. Apart from teaching, she is also involved in research and mentoring more than 30 undergraduate and 10 postgraduate students. 

Project - Formulation, validation and promotion of products from C. Swynnertonii resin  

The project is developing an oral and topical formulations /products from C. Swynnertonii resin for medical and veterinary uses. This is a continuation of Bakari’s PhD work, which aims at adding value to C swynnertonii resin. Commiphora swynnertonii demonstrated to have significant activities against different microbes of veterinary and public health importance in different animal species. Furthermore, resin was shown to significantly reduce blood sugar and cholesterol.

Some of these findings corroborated well with what pastoralists and traditional healers claim as beneficial effects of using the resin. Given the promising findings from her previous studies, she is now conducting a study, in collaborations with a pharmaceutical company, to formulate topical remedies (ointments, lotion and creams) for treating wounds and skin conditions as well as oral preparation (soft gel/capsule) for controlling blood sugar and cholesterol. This study is anticipated to come up with production of tested patented and sellable products/remedies from C. swynnertonii resin.  


Michael Oluwatosin Bodunrin, Lecturer, Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, Federal University of Technology Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria 

Michael Oluwatosin Bodunrin is a Lecturer in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, Federal University of Technology Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria. He is completing his Doctorate at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.  His doctoral research work on the hot deformation and corrosion behaviour of low-cost titanium alloys was funded by the African Materials Science and Engineering Network, a Carnegie RISE-IAS network.   

Bodunrin has presented his research findings at several conferences and workshops and has co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed articles in reputable academic journals. One of his review articles has been ranked as the most cited article in Elsevier’s Journal of Materials Research Technology, a Scopus indexed journal.  His current research interests include the structure-property relationship of titanium alloys and aluminum matrix composites, thermomechanical simulation and finite element modelling.

Apart from teaching, research and mentoring, Bodunrin is actively involved in science communication. His science communication article was selected as one of the best South Africa’s postgraduate science writing in 2016 by Science Today. He was also a national finalist at South Africa’s FAMELAB science communication competition in 2017.

Project- Developing low-cost titanium alloys for land-based applications 

This research aims to add value to the abundant titanium ore reserves in South Africa.

Titanium alloys have a good strength-to-weight ratio, excellent corrosion resistance and are biocompatible. However, the alloys are highly priced and this impedes their widespread applicability. The factors contributing to the high cost of titanium alloys include the use of expensive alloying elements, complex hot working process and difficult machining when forming titanium components into different shapes. 

To date, the use of inexpensive alloying elements and the optimisation of hot working parameters at laboratory testing scale have been adopted to address the high cost of titanium alloys. However, there is need to optimise the hot working and machining parameters at scales comparable with the commercial production processes.

Therefore, this research will focus extensively on the optimisation of the hot working and machining parameters of the low-cost alloys at scales comparable with commercial production processes. This will be achieved through the combination of finite element modelling, experimental validation and advanced characterisation technique. 

The bulk of the research work will be conducted mainly at the host university, University of the Witwatersrand while the advanced characterisation will be carried out at Oxford University in the UK. 

The knowledge obtained from this work will be useful for developing the low-cost alloys in commercial quantity. 


Gaolathe Tsheboeng, Lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences, University of eSwatini, The Kingdom of eSwatini 

Gaolathe Tsheboeng’s research interests are in riparian plant ecology and management. Through his research, Tsheboeng aims to understand how flooding variation and land use affect species composition and distribution of riparian plant communities in the Okavango Delta. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education (Science), Degree of Master of Philosophy (MPhil, specialising in seasonal floodplain plant ecology) and Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (specialising in riparian woodland plant ecology) in Natural Resources Management. At the Okavango Research Institute,

Tsheboeng has been exposed to academic training which involved contemporary research methods. He has become proficient in the application of multivariate statistical techniques such as clustering and ordination to large data-sets. This is an invaluable skill in landscape ecology.

Furthermore, Tsheboeng has presented both his MPhil and PhD work in both local and International conferences. He has already published prolifically, with work in reputable refereed journals that include African Journal of Aquatic Science, South African Journal of Science, Journal of Forestry Research, Biodiversity and Ecology, Southern Forests and African Journal of Ecology. Locally, he has one of his papers published in Botswana Notes and Records Journal while another one is accepted for publication in Pula: Botswana Journal of African Studies. Tsheboeng also has some publications in conference proceedings. His other publications are in the form of Technical reports.

Tsheboeng worked as a Research Assistant in the Future Okavango Project, which sponsored his PhD studies and is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and hosted by ORI. The main focus of that project was mapping and inventorying woodland resources of the Okavango Delta. After completion of his PhD, Tsheboeng was employed as a Research Assistant in the research project on “Diversity, Population Structure and Regeneration Status of Riparian Woody Species Growing Naturally along the Thamalakane River, Northern western Botswana” funded by Forest Conservation Botswana. 

Project: Designing a monitoring system for riparian woodland vegetation in the Okavango Delta, Botswana 

Despite their importance, riparian woodland vegetation in the Okavango Delta is threatened by a large and increasing elephant population and by the degradation of human beings who clear the land for agriculture. As a result of these progressing anthropogenic activities, the riparian woody vegetation may shrink and degrade. Therefore, the current study aims to design a monitoring system which will provide early warning information on the degradation of riparian woodland vegetation in the Okavango Delta. 

This project aims to develop the monitoring system for the change in riparian woodland vegetation in the Okavango Delta.   Monitoring land cover change will help to guide policy on conservation of woodland resources and provide early warning information on its degradation. It will also ensure that there is sustained flow of services and benefits that are derived from the riparian woodland vegetation.  


Benjamin Kumwenda, Lecturer in Bioinformatics, College of Medicine, University of Malawi 

Benjamin Kumwenda is a Malawian and a Lecturer in Bioinformatics at the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine. He holds a BSc Degree in Computer Sciences from the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College obtained in 2001. He also has an Honors Degree in Computer Sciences and an MSc Degree in Computer Sciences obtained in 2006 and 2008 respectively from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He graduated with a PhD in Bioinformatics from University of Pretoria in April 2014 funded by RISE. Since then, he has been a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust from 2014 to 2015 funded by the H3Africa Bioinformatics Network (H3BioNet). In 2016, he was awarded the UK’s Medical Research Council African Research Excellence Fund (AREF) Postdoctoral Fellowship and was based at the University of Liverpool, Institute of Integrative Biology in Hinton Lab.

He is also an awardee of the RISE Graduate Competitive fund through which he established the Bioinformatics research team and an MSc in Bioinformatics at the College of Medicine in Malawi. He currently heads the Biomedical Sciences Department at the College of Medicine in Blantyre Malawi. His research interests are in the pathogenesis of Salmonella and understanding drug resistance in human pathogens.

Project- Investigating the prevalence of Lineage 2A Salmonella in Malawi

A novel type of Salmonella has evolved in Africa, and is now causing a serious epidemic responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. The key pathogen is a bacterium known as Salmonella Typhimurium ST313. Genomic analyses have revealed that the multidrug-resistant Salmonella isolates have evolved into distinct genetic lineages that have only been seen in sub-Saharan Africa. First, Lineage 1 was responsible for invasive Non-Typhoidal Salmonella (iNTS) disease. Then, Lineage 2 replaced Lineage 1 in about 2002, and is causing a more serious disease associated with increased antibiotic resistance. We have evidence that a new lineage (2A) emerged in Africa in 2006, and is now responsible for high levels of infections. However, we know very little about Lineage 2A, and this work investigates why Lineage 2A is becoming more prevalent among patients in Malawi. 


Faith Philemon Mabiki, Lecturer, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania 

Faith Philemon Mabiki received a Bachelor of Science (BSc), majoring in Chemistry and Microbiology in 2002 at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, a Master of Research in Clean Chemical Technology (Green Chemistry) from the University of York in the UK in 2007 and  a PhD  in Natural Products at Tanzania’s Sokoine University Agriculture in 2013. She has been trained at the German Bioresources Centre on chemicals from bioresources, specialising on biogas production from plant wastes.

She has also been trained in the United Kingdom and Kenya on the use of analytical instruments and techniques for natural products analysis and identification, which include HPLC and GCMS. Mabiki teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses and supervises research and special projects at Sokoine University of Agriculture in chemistry. Mabiki is a very active academic and researcher having published more 15 papers and three book chapters and successfully applied for three patents. She has supervised more than of 20 special undergraduate projects, 8 MSc and 5 PhD students. She is member of various institutional, national and international organisations that include the Tanzania Chemical Society, Royal Society of Chemistry (UK) and Natural Products Research Network of Eastern and Southern Africa (NAPRECA).

Project- Valorization of potentials of Synadenium glaucescens (SG), phytochemicals for management of important human and animal diseases 

The project involves valorising some formulated SG phytoproducts, a medicinal plant which is traditionally used in Tanzania for treatment of some human and animal diseases.  Her project arises from patents she obtained during her PhD on antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal capacity of the extracts from the plant. Through this project, the products which are Syna soap, Syna syrup and Syna cream will be studied. In order to add value of these products the mixed compounds that contribute to their activity against Skin fungal infections and coughing will be identified and tested for their proper doses. This will contribute to proper labelling and packaging, which will build more confidence to customers when buying the products.

Furthermore, a method to check their quality will be developed and validated for their quality control. Capacity building on formulations of phytoproducts, screening, testing, judicial use of medicinal plants and quality control will be done to post-graduate studies, technical, academic staffs as well as traditional healers. This will ensure the continuity of flow of knowledge and will enhance the commercialisation of Syna products. Generally, the project will contribute to smooth entry of Phytoproducts into both the local, regional and international market in Tanzania.

The immediate output will include five publications in peer review journals, 15 compounds characterised and tested, a capacity building workshops, a community of practice and characterised products with proper packaging and labelling ready for market entry.  


Jane Namukobe, Lecturer and Researcher, Department of Chemistry, Makerere University, Uganda 

Jane Namukobe is a Lecturer and a Researcher at the Department of Chemistry at Makerere University in Uganda. Namukobe obtained her Bachelor of Science, Master of Science and a PhD in Chemistry from Makerere University.

She has experience in teaching and research of over 10 years and her vision and ability is to nurture the young generation to grow and advance in their academic as well as research careers. Driven by the enthusiasm in research in natural products chemistry, Namukobe has received awards to do research towards drug formulation and drug discovery from medicinal plants. She has published journal papers in her field of research in peer reviewed journals.  Her current research focuses on screening plants for their antibacterial, antioxidation and sunscreen potentials as well as isolating and identifying their bioactive compounds.

Project:  Bioactivity and chemical investigation of natural products composition from selected plants used in skin infections and protection 

Skin diseases are very common in many developing countries and have a serious impact on people’s quality of life, causing lost productivity at work and school, and discrimination which may lead to psycho-social problems especially in the neglected minority groups like the albinos. Many people develop skin conditions due to UV exposure (skin cancer), and bacterial infections. 

With the emerging bacterial resistance to antimicrobials in skin infections, there is need to search for novel chemotherapeutic agents to combat the resistant bacterial strains. Besides, artificial sunscreens are expensive, purported to cause cancer and sometimes breakdown and become less effective.

In Uganda, many plants used to treat skin diseases have been documented but their efficacy, toxicity and chemical constituent is not known and this hinders their formulation and development into drugs. The project aims to identify and chemically characterize bioactive metabolites from plants with antibacterial, antioxidant and sun protection potentials. 

The project anticipates to advance knowledge by discovering bioactive compounds that can be used as chemical markers and act as leads for discovery of drugs for skin infection and protection from UV radiation.  


Dominic Omosa Ochwang’i, Lecturer, Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology, University of Nairobi, Kenya 

Dominic Omosa Ochwang’i holds a Bachelor’s degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Nairobi acquired in 2007 and is a registered veterinary surgeon with the Kenya Veterinary Board. He was awarded a University of Nairobi Scholarship and Academic Research Enhancement Award by Western Kentucky University as a visiting research scholar, USA in 2008 for a MSc in Comparative Mammalian Physiology and graduated in 2011. Ochwang’i was then employed as a Tutorial Fellow in the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Nairobi. He graduated with Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in September 2017 with a dissertation in “Pharmacophysiological anticancer potential of medicinal plants used in Kakamega County in Kenya” under the Regional Initiative for Science and Education (RISE AFNNET) PhD scholarship programme.

During his PhD project, he acquired diverse molecular techniques as a visiting research scholar at the Institute of Pharmacy and Biochemistry, Department of Pharmaceutical Biology, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany. He has published in internationally peer reviewed journals and has interests in cell signaling and gene expression, molecular biotechnology, cancer therapeutics, natural products research and Comparative Physiology. He is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Project- Complementary anticancer therapy using medicinal plants: from molecular characterisation to preclinical testing   

Cancer is a disorder involving unregulated cell growth characterised by uncontrolled cell division that results in the formation of tumors that may metastasize to invade other parts of the body. Current standard treatment regime includes chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Effectiveness of chemotherapy is often limited by toxicity to other non-target tissues in the body, multidrug resistance and high costs. There has been a therapeutic paradigm shift with consideration for alternative low cost therapies from medicinal plants. Ochwang’i seeks to investigate the anticancer potential of selected Kenyan medicinal plants through evaluation of their effects on breast, prostate, leukemia, colon, glioblastoma, cervical and esophageal human cancer cell lines selective cytotoxic viability, molecular gene expression profiling, pre-clinical in-vivo testing in  mice cancer xenografts and active dog cancers.

The present study intends to scientifically validate the anticancer effects of the selected medicinal plants extracts and identified molecules for therapeutic efficacy assurance. It is envisaged that the outcome of this work will be a validation of use of medicinal plants as an alternative and complementary source of cancer therapy.

We intend to engage Traditional medical practitioners (TMPs) as stakeholders for this innovative approach for the development of natural products for local indigenous community consumption as well as industry development and potential commercialization. This will primarily provide a standard for medicinal plant use and also reduce treatment cost of cancer in the human population.