Leveraging institutional networks to advance the search for East coast fever disease vaccine

As part of ongoing research to develop an effective vaccine for East Coast Fever (ECF), I conducted a study on the interactions between the parasites that cause disease and vectors that transmit them. East Coast Fever is a tick-borne disease that kills over 1 million cattle in East, Central and Southern Africa annually, devastating the livelihoods of smallholder livestock farmers. I would like to develop a vaccine that can block transmission of this disease at the vector level.

My quest to apply computational methods to identify potential ECF vaccine candidates however requires a more in-depth understanding of parasite and vector biology, and interaction. A travel scholarship from the BecA-ILRI Hub enabled me attend the 2016, the NIH-Global Infectious Disease Training Program’s Workshop on Biology of Parasites and Disease Vectors. This presented an opportunity to progress my search for a solution to ECF which begun through a fellowship under the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program at the BecA-ILRI Hub (October 2014–March 2015).

The workshop took place at Gulu University in Uganda, one of the regional institutions whose capacity has been strengthened by the BecA-ILRI Hub. It was organized by Gulu University in partnership with Yale University and Biotechnology Research Institute-Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (BRI-KALRO). It was a good opportunity to share the outcome of my work, build my capacity and network with fellow researchers that share similar interests.

I gained different perspectives to approaching my research. For instance, I learned how vector physiology, ecology, immunity, evolutionary biology and genetics studies are applied in development of effective disease control strategies. Through group discussions, I got new ideas for future ECF vaccine development studies.

Of course, at the end of the workshop, I gave a brief oral presentation about the BecA-ILRI Hub, and the opportunities available for African scientists to build their research capacity while solving major food insecurity causes such as livestock diseases on the continent.

About Milcah Kigoni

Milcah Kigoni is an MSc student at the Kenyatta University in Nairobi Kenya. She was awarded a six month fellowship from 1 October 2014–30 March 2015 through the ABCF program. Having witnessed farmers from Machakos County in eastern Kenya lose their herds to East Coast fever (ECF), Kigoni developed the desire to be part of the solution to this challenge. The acceptance of her proposal by the ABCF to use computational tools in identifying potential vaccine candidates for ECF presented an opportunity to build her capacity in bioinformatics while fulfilling her aspiration to contribute to tackling the disease. Although much remains to be done, Kigoni’s work at the BecA-ILRI Hub has provided a better understanding of the parasite and the tick vector, a good start to finding a lasting solution to the ECF problem.

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