Innovating research, policy and education in synthetic and systems biology

Exploring Grand Challenges in Uganda

African researchers in a brainstorm session

On February 8-10, Prof Susan Rosser, Prof Alistair Elfick and Dr Liz Fletcher attended the AGM of the MUII-Plus DELTAS programme held in Entebbe, Uganda, at the Uganda Virus Research Institute.

The MUII-Plus programme is well established and is directed largely to exploring the aetiology and pathology of infectious diseases pertinent to Sub Saharan Africa. The research initiative is funded by the Wellcome Trust, UK Aid and NEPAD and its long-term vision is to train African leaders in bioinformatics, immunity and infectious diseases, which it is doing admirably well.

Over three days, the Edinburgh team got a great insight of endemic diseases such as parasitic infections (Schistosomiasis, Trypanosomiasis), tuberculosis and HIV, which continue to be the source of major sources of ill health in Uganda and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) more widely. An analysis of the ongoing research and areas of unmet needs will follow.

On the first day of the event, the Centre team presented to >50 delegates on what synthetic biology was and the many opportunities to deploy it towards research challenges for infection and immunity. This was certainly a new area of research to most individuals in the room, many of them quite taken (if not amazed!) at the potential opportunities arising. Several discussions have arisen about applications for synthetic biology, including potential collaborative projects with UK-based researchers who had also attended the event.

We later ran a workshop, facilitated by Alison Gray (Skillfluence) on ‘Creative Problem Solving’ bringing together 25 senior managers and researchers from the University of Makerere and local hospital for a brainstorm. There was plenty of chatter, a lot of post-it notes, and some very interesting and revealing insights into the challenges faced by local scientists and health professionals. Those attending were handsomely rewarded with a Scottish delicacy - a Tunnocks caramel wafer - which had miraculously survived the 30 degree heat.

We are very grateful to Professor Allison Elliot, MUII-Plus Director, and her team for the invitation and the very warm reception that they provided. 

The trip and workshop was funded through a BBSRC Global Challenge Research Fund award to Professor Susan Rosser.

Photo: Hard at work brainstorming solutions for grand challenges.