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Dr Julie Makani wins the 2011 Royal Society Pfizer Award for Sickle Cell Disease research
Tanzanian research scientist, Dr Julie Makani, has been awarded the 2011 Royal Society Pfizer Award. Dr Makani, was awarded for her outstanding research into using Anaemia in Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) as a model for translating genetic research into health benefits.
The Royal Society Pfizer Award is an annual award designed to recognize research scientists based in Africa who are at an early stage of their research careers and who are making an innovative contribution to the biological sciences, including basic medical science, which contributes significantly to capacity building in Africa.
The Award consists of a grant of £60,000 to carry out a research project that is linked to an African centre of scientific excellence, which would normally be a University, or equivalent research centre. The grant is intended to cover the costs of the research project except from the awardees own salary. A further £5,000 is given as a prize to the recipient.
Dr Makani, who is based in the Haematology Department at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, has provided evidence that anaemia is a common cause of Morbidity and mortality in SCD in Tanzania. She has also developed a framework to conduct a clinical trial of Hydroxyurea - a chemotherapy agent with potent effects on the bone marrow – in the treatment of anaemia in SCD.
Hydroxyurea increases foetal haemoglobin (HbF) levels but it has a direct effect on haematopoiesis - blood cell formation - through poorly understood mechanisms. The award money, provided through a grant from Pfizer Inc., will allow Makani to extend the clinical trial to include a description of the haematopoietic response to Hydroxyurea. It will also allow her to explore genetic and environmental factors (socioeconomic status, education and access to health care) associated with the haematopoietic response to hydroxyurea. Dr Makani hopes that the research will lead to improved diagnosis and treatment thereby reducing the burden of anaemia to individuals, the health system and local community. See Short Film on Dr Makani's award here
On receiving the news of the award, Dr Makani said “It is an honour for our work to receive this recognition. I hope that this award will help change the perception about science and technology in Africa, as it provides validation that it is possible to conduct Genomic research in Africa.”
Dr Makani further added that “The recognition of our work by the Royal Society and Pfizer will serve to show that is possible to develop excellence in science, while integrating this into improving healthcare and building expertise in sickle cell anaemia.”
In 2001, Dr Makani started collaborating with the KEMRI-Wellcome programme when conducting clinical studies on adult malaria in Dar-es-Salaam. Following this study, she identified haematology as an interesting clinical area and sickle cell disease (SCD) as a major but neglected problem. Due to its molecular basis, SCD presents great opportunities for integrating clinical, epidemiological, patho-physiological and genetic research. She further received a Training fellowship from the Wellcome Trust to establish a systematic framework for comprehensive research and care, with one of the largest single-centre cohorts of SCD patients in the world. SCD presents great opportunities for integrating clinical, epidemiological, patho-physiological and genetic research and to test the paradigm of translation of research in genomic medicine into improvement in health.
Commending Dr Makani for her award and her work, the Scientific Director at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Prof Kevin Marsh, said “I am delighted, this is a very prestigious award and the programme is very proud of its association with Julie and her work”
Senior Scientist at the Programme, Dr Tom Williams, who has worked with Julie on several projects, added "I am absolutely delighted to hear that the Royal Society / Pfizer have chosen Julie for this year’s award. This is not only fantastic news for Julie but for the Programme as a whole.” "This is a hugely prestigious award and sends a strong signal that the Royal Society not only recognizes the importance of Julie's work but also the importance of sickle cell disease as a serious health problem in desperate need of further research." He said.
Julie Makani is the second research scientist associated with the programme to receive this prestigious Award. Dr Alex Nzila was the first recipient of the Royal Society Pfizer Award in 2006 for his work on the mechanisms of anti-malaria drug action. See short film on Dr Nzila, s award in 2006 here.