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Daniel Muema, Josea Rono and Charles Nyaigoti, shine in the University of Nairobi Awards
Daniel Muema, a PhD student under Brita Urban, has bagged five top prizes at a go. He was the top student in the University of Nairobi's College of Health Sciences for the 2006/07 academic year and won the Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Prize for best final year student in the School of Pharmacy, the Laboratory and Allied Prize for best final year student in the School of Pharmacy and the Regal Pharmaceuticals Excellence Award for Pharmaceuticals.
Talking to Daniel, you could say winning is second nature to him. He was 7th overall in the country and 4th in Nairobi province, when he sat for his KCSE exam at the Starehe Boys Centre. How did he manage all this? The soft spoken, polite ''student'' has a disarming smile, which tells you, he has come a long way. He was raised in a remote village in Machakos and did his primary years at the little known Nguluni Township Primary School. He studied diligently and went to a national school, from where he launched his career by studying a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree. Upon graduation, he did a one year internship with the government, then later applied for our highly competitive internship process where he was successfully recruited. According to Dr Sam Kinyanjui, the Head of Training, Daniel was one of the outstanding candidates they interviewed and he scored highly. When a PhD opportunity came up in August, 2009 Daniel was among the group of 5 successful applicants.
Daniel is studying B cells in HIV infected children, with an emphasis on ARVs and contrimoxadole (septrin). He is interested in B cells because they are the ones which produce anti-bodies. He says studies have shown that HIV infection changes how B cells function. their structure and function in adults. ''Few studies have looked at children and the few that have been done are not detailed. There are also no reported studies on the effect on septrin on B cells. Septin is usually given to HIV infected people and it appears to improve their well being but no one knows for sure how this happens. People assume it is because it is an antibiotic but it's not been proved if there are other immunological mechanisms it has,'' he explains.
Daniel's classmate, Josea Rono, was the second best final year student in the School of Pharmacy. Josea is a PhD student under Dr Faith Osier/Anna Farnert Research Group. Before embarking on his studentship, he was a research intern under Dr Alexis Nzila's group. The internship was an intensely competitive process where only a few made it. ''Our internships are won competitively and Josea had been selected from among over 50 candidates. During his internship, Josea proved to be very bright and hardworking and it is no surprise that he emerged the best candidate for the PhD studentship interviews conducted by a team of 12 independent senior researchers from our Programme, '' remarks Dr Sam Kinyanjui, the Head of Training.
Josea had worked with the Ministry of Health as a Clinical Pharmacist for one year before joining our Programme. He already has a manuscript submitted to the Journal of Antimirobial Agents Chemotherapy, together with a team of colleagues from the Programme, on ''In vitro activity of quinine and other anti-malarials and pfnhe polymorphism in Kenyan Plasmodium isolates.''
The overall aim of Josea's PhD project is to investigate the genetic diversity of malaria infections and the effect this diversity has on anti-body responses against the malaria parasite. He explains: '' People living in malaria endemic areas develop naturally acquired immunity to malaria disease with time. Immunity can also be induced by experimental infections both in monkeys and humans. However, this immunity is not sterilizing since adults in malaria endemic areas who become immune to severe morbidity still remain susceptible to infection. In this regard, immunity to malaria is incomplete and so is our knowledge of the mechanisms by which it is acquired. Nonetheless, the importance of antibody responses has been demonstrated through passive antibody transfer studies. Malaria specific antibody responses have indeed been shown to be associated with protection against clinical malaria by several studies. Importantly, this association is particularly strong where the antibodies are directed against parasite peptides that are of the same genetic type as those expressed by the concurrently infecting parasites. Considering that the protection from clinical malaria has been shown to increase with the breadth and magnitude of antigen-specific antibody responses, this observation suggests that the persistence of infections with genetically diverse parasites could affect the breadth and possibly the function of antibody responses.''
Another winner is Charles Nyaigoti, a PhD student under Dr James Nokes and co-supervisor Prof Patricia A. Caine of the Health Protection Agency, U.K.
Charles bagged the best overall student prize in the College of Physical and Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science for the 2005/06 academic year, the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi Trustee Fund Prize, the University of Narobi Alumni Association Prize and the Unilever Kenya Ltd Prize. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry and Chemistry.
Asked about the secret to his success, Charles attributed it to '' ... a determination to be the best, to work hard and share your ideas with colleagues.''
Charles joined us as an intern, through our highly competitive recruitment process, in February, 2007 then worked as an Assistant Research Officer, before applying for a Wellcome Trust Masters Fellowship at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. He studied molecular biology of infectious diseases for his Masters Fellowship. His PhD work is currently looking at characteristics of respiratory virus strains circulating within the Kilifi community, focusing on respiratory syncytial virus, a pathogen that causes brochilitis and pneumonia in children.
Charles previously worked at the HIV laboratories in KEMRI where he volunteered for six months before joining our Programme.