In response to the World Bank’s call for proposals for African Centres of Excellence, the University of Ghana proposed the establishment of the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) at Legon. The proposal was led by faculty from the Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology (BCMB), and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), with support from staff of the University of Ghana Computing Systems (UGCS). After two rounds of evaluation, including review of the written proposal and a site visit to evaluate existing infrastructure and interview the project leader, the World Bank accepted the proposal for the establishment of WACCBIP in November 2013. Subsequently, the World Bank has committed $8 million to support WACCBIP through a financing agreement with the Government of Ghana.
MISSION AND OBJECTIVES
The mission of the Centre is to improve diagnosis, prevention and control of infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa by providing advanced level training and research excellence on the cell and molecular biology of infectious pathogens. The key objectives of the Centre are to:
- Train high level health professionals and biomedical scientists on cell and molecular biology of infectious pathogens through MPhil, PhD and Post-doctoral programmes.
- Serve as a core facility with state-of-the art biomedical laboratories to support infectious diseases research in the sub-region.
- Establish a Biomedical High Performance Computing Unit to provide cluster computing services to promote teaching, research, and dissemination of information among health professionals and academics in the sub-region.
- Increase research output and innovation by serving as a focal point for enhancing collaboration among biomedical scientists and biotechnology companies in the sub-region.
Training: The Training programmes include:
- Short-term programmes (2-4 weeks long workshops/courses) targeting professionals in the health delivery sector, including physicians, pharmacists, and senior laboratory personnel, to improve their knowledge of disease pathogenesis and modern methods of diagnosis and treatment;
- Medium-term programmes (3-6 month long research internships) for trainee biomedical scientists and hospital laboratory technologists, to provide experiential training on research design, specialized techniques, and team building skills; and
- Long-term programmes (Masters, PhD and Post-doctoral), targeting career biomedical scientists in Universities and Health research institutions. In addition to the existing programs at BCMB (MSc/MPhil Biochemistry, MPhil Molecular Biology and PhD Biochemistry), two new specialized programs were introduced in 2014/2015, MPhil and PhD in Molecular Cell Biology of Infectious Diseases. These two new programmes are sponsored by the World Bank funds and run by WACCBIP. In addition, funds are have been sourced from the Wellcome Trust to support a new postdoctoral programme and an additional PhD programme in Human Genetics to complement the Pathogen Biology programmes.
Research: The research mission of WACCBIP is to conduct cutting edge research and innovation to guide development of new approaches to disease diagnosis, prevention, and control. The priority pathogens include protozoans causing diseases such as malaria and trypanosomiasis; Mycobacteria, causing tuberculosis and Buruli ulcer; other bacteria causing gastro-intestinal and blood infections; and viruses, including HIV, rotaviruses, Influenza, and Dengue. For each of the priority diseases/pathogens, research is organized into five themes: disease pathogenesis and immunity, pathogen genomics/bioinformatics, host genetics/genomics, host/pathogen interactions, molecular diagnosis, molecular epidemiology for surveillance, and target discovery for drug and vaccine development.
Research Core facility: WACCBIP is developing a Core facility to serve as a hub for collaboration among scientists in the sub-region with access to modern research equipment for analysis of samples and other services at reasonable cost. Services to be provided by the Core include high throughput multi-color flow cytometry and cell sorting, mass spectrometry, gene expression assays, primer synthesis, and expression and purification of proteins. In addition, the WACCBIP Core will operate a laboratory supplies store, and build capacity and expertise for servicing and repair of equipment. The WACCBIP Core facility will also include a biomedical high performance computing unit (BHPCU) to provide access to cluster computing services, and scientific software for data analyses, modeling/simulation, and information dissemination.
Projected Output: At the end of the four year period of the World Bank grant, WACCBIP would have achieved the following: (i) international accreditation for two new specialized graduate programs, (ii) enrolled 60 Mphil students, 40 PhDs and 12 post-docs, of which at least 30% would be regional and 40% female, (iii) trained 195 scientists and health professionals through short term courses, of which at least 30% would be regional and 40% female, (iv) published at least 44 peer-reviewed research publications, of which at least 50% include regional co-authors, (v) attract an average of $1M per year in externally mobilized funds, (vi) improved research and teaching environment through building extension to provide new lecture and seminar rooms, well-equipped research core facility, established a biomedical high performance computing unit, and (vii) developed new disease diagnostic/monitoring methods and novel drug/vaccine targets.
GOVERNANCE AND STAFF
Governance: WACCBIP operates as an academic unit in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, under the oversight of the Provost of the College and the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Development. The Centre is led by a Director and deputy Director, and assisted by the Centre’s Management Committee composed of senior academics and Industry leaders. The Management committee has sub-committees for Training and Research, Equipment/Logistics and Information Computing Technology (ICT). In addition, there is a Monitoring and Evaluation team whose head is a member of the Management committee. The Centre has an International Advisory and Scientific Review Board, comprising of international experts who directly advise the WACCBIP Director on the Centre’s scientific quality and strategic research.
Secretariat: The WACCBIP Director is assisted by a Centre secretariat, with an Administrator with qualifications equivalent to an Assistant Registrar or Faculty Research Development Officer. Other staff include an Administrative Assistant, an Accounts Officer, and an ICT officer.
Faculty: The Centre has appointed postdoctoral Research Fellows (PhD holders), who drive the Centre’s research agenda. Additional faculty are drawn from the BCMB, NMIMR, and other faculty from CBAS and the College of Health Sciences for teaching and supervision of students. Regional and International collaborators also support the Centre through short teaching visits and co-supervision of students, including hosting students for experiential learning.
ADDITIONAL FUNDS OUTSIDE THE WORLD BANK ACE PROJECT
In August 2015, WACCBIP was a proud awardee of the Wellcome Trust Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) Africa Programme. The centre will receive $7,823,628.00 over five (5) years to:
- Train 12 Postdoctoral fellows who will undertake research projects of interest, in a scientific environment that promotes the development of leadership skills and networking with other scientists in the sub- region.
- Train 15 PhDs in Human genetics of Communicable or non-communicable diseases. This programme is designed to complement the pathogen genomics content of our existing Molecular Cell Biology of Infectious Diseases programme.
- Offer short courses in bioethics for about 50 trainees (10 trainees annually) on responsible biomedical research conduct.
- Offer travel fellowships for 25 trainees for a six month visit to advanced laboratories under the co-supervision of mentors in the USA and UK, to learn specialized techniques or use specialized facilities and equipment for their training and research
- Attract and mentor 60 newly graduate students from the major Universities in Ghana, with a keen interest in science to work as research assistants and technicians. These interns will be mentored to choose suitable career by joining our graduate programmes
FUNDING AND SUSTAINABILITY
The Centre operates as a semi-autonomous unit and its activities are financed through the World Bank support, Wellcome Trust DELTAS grant and additional grants mobilized by the Centre and its faculty and collaborators. The major plan for sustainability is to continue building our faculty and placing WACCBIP in a strong position for competitive funding from donor agencies by demonstrating consistency in teaching and research excellence. With the increased visibility and credibility that is being gained through the African Centres of Excellence Project and the Wellcome Trust DELTAS project, the Centre is well-positioned to access additional funding for its training programmes. Additional proposals are also being planned for submission to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Fogarty International Centre training programmes and the Gates Foundation. We are also confident of strengthening our linkages with the private sector, which are being facilitated through the World Bank programme. There is considerable interest from Pharmaceutical companies in partnering with WACCBIP for drug discovery research, and we expect these collaborations to bring in additional funding in the next few years. Also, with the ramping up of human genetics research, we will develop the capacity to introduce molecular testing services for genetic markers of diseases susceptibility. These services would be provided on a fee-for-service basis and coupled with a genetic counselling programme. Lastly, WACCBIP will operate a supplies store which will procure reagents and supplies in bulk directly from manufacturers or wholesalers. The store will then provide for the needs of WACCBIP faculty and students, as well as other scientists within the University Community and at other Institutions in Ghana.