WACCBIP Student Spotlight – Jennifer Afua Ofori
Being in the molecular biology laboratory of the Manful Gwira research team is an extra commitment that Jennifer Afua Ofori considers a good preparation for her research career. Providing positive leadership is certainly a strength of Jennifer’s having inspired other young researchers with her determination and confidence. A final year PhD Biochemistry student with WACCBIP, Jennifer hopes to find a cure to eradicate animal trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, in Ghana and other African countries.
Where did you grow up and what are your interests?
I was born into a family of seven. Born to a military officer, I spent my childhood and adolescence years at the military barracks at Burma Camp in Accra. I like wet bench research and I like going to the cinema and stage-acting with my family and friends. Cooking and listening to gospel and high life music are my favorite.
What were your future aspirations as a child? Did those dreams change as you grew?
As a child, my dream was to be a medical doctor as I admired our family physician who became my mentor. This dream motivated me to work hard throughout my basic and secondary education through to the university. In the university, I developed a deeper interest in Biochemistry after my interaction with colleagues. It was clear from interactions that pursing Biochemistry is advantageous to medicine because I will understand how the human body functions at the molecular level. The ultimate turnover occurred when I met Prof. Ewurama Addy at the Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology. I admired her as I watched the “Brillant Science and Maths Quiz” programme on TV during my Secondary School days. May her soul rest in perfect peace.
Which laboratory are you currently working with and when did you start?
I am currently working in the molecular biology laboratory with the Manful Gwira research team. We are interested in molecular and cellular biology of parasites, precisely kinetoplastids such as African trypanosomes, leishmania and host-pathogen interactions. I joined the laboratory in August 2013.
What is your research area and why are you passionate about it?
My research interest is interspersed within the fields of biomedical science and molecular microbiology of infectious diseases. I am more interested in molecular biology of African trypanosomes which is the cause of human African and animal trypanosomiasis. Animals are trypanotolerant and, hence, serve as reservoirs for the human trypanosome species; thus, could lead to an outbreak of sleeping sickness disease. Therefore, there is a need to tackle this issue in animals, in terms of identifying the circulating species and identifying diagnostic markers for early diagnosis of the disease in animals.
What do you like about WACCBIP?
WACCBIP is a breakthrough for biomedical research in Ghana, alongside Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research because of its up-to date knowledge of the latest application of the newest technologies. Also, programmes are well-organized and well-coordinated. I have built my confidence during presentations at national and international workshops, which have helped me acquire skills and invaluable knowledge in infectious disease research which will go a long way to help me in my future career. For instance, I was glad to experience a very friendly atmosphere when I visited my collaborator’s laboratory (Carrington research group) at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge. The interaction broadened my knowledge a lot and the prospects for future collaborations are exciting.
What impact do you think your research will have in the world in the next decade?
Livestock rearing is an integral component of farming systems and contributes significantly to food and economic security in developing countries. Trypanosomiasis is the most economically important constraint to livestock productivity in sub-Saharan Africa especially cattle because of their use for draft power and supply of diary product and meat. Therefore, my research is aimed at characterizing trypanosome species throughout the natural infection cycle in cattle over a two-year period in Ghana. This will provide invaluable information on the biology of trypanosome infection and help inform control measures in the affected areas to help eradicate animal trypanosomiasis. Secondly, the determination of trypanosome immunogenic proteins to the infected cattle sera will help diagnose the disease early in cattle to increase productivity.
Any future plans you want to share and any advice you would like to give to prospective students?
For my immediate plans, I would like to go into academia in the area of cellular biology of trypanosomes and Babesia species. I would also like to collaborate with my Principal Supervisor, Dr. Theresa Manful Gwira for other research activities.
To prospective students, I would advise that they remain determined, focused, honest, well-organized and open-minded. I would also advise that they pay attention to details, be opened to correction, and be good team-players in research in order to be successful. I would also like to encourage more women to get into science research.
[Jenifer received both her Bachelor’s Degree and post-graduate studies from the Department of Biochemistry, University of Ghana, Legon. She has no favorite food]