Dr Leopold Tientcheu Djomkam wins the Future Leaders – African Independent Research (FLAIR) Award

Dr Leopold Tientcheu Djomkam has won one of the 30 inaugural Future Leaders – African Independent Research (FLAIR) Fellowship Awards for early career African scientists. FLAIR  is a programme of The African Academy of Sciences (The AAS) and the Royal Society, with support from the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). It is designed to help talented early-career researchers, whose science is focused on the needs of the continent, to establish independent careers in African institutions and ultimately, their own research groups.

Dr Tientcheu is the first scientist within the MRCG at LSHTM to be awarded this postdoctoral fellowship from The AAS and Royal Society. The award will allow him to expand his research on Tuberculosis (TB) by identifying human host immunological markers that can be targeted by immunomodulatory molecules as an adjunctive therapy to shorten the lengthy antibiotic TB treatment particularly in West Africa. Half of all TB cases in West Africa are caused by M. africanum bacilli, which respond differently to antibiotic treatment, compared to M. tuberculosis that causes TB around the world. These differences require tailored therapeutic approaches that account for both the pathogen and human genetic diversities.

Reacting to the news, Dr. Tientcheu says, “I am honoured and delighted to receive the FLAIR award following the NIH-FIC K43 Emerging Global Leader award as it will accelerate my transition into an independently funded fundamental/translational infectious disease scientist. The FLAIR award provides funding for my research on how to improve M. africanum infected patients treatment, which has been overlooked. This can be achieved by using state-of-the-art methods to understand how the interaction between pathogen and host population genetic diversity impacts the outcomes of infection treatment and vaccines in order to develop optimal approaches to reduce the burden of tuberculosis in Africa as a whole”.

Dr Leopold Tientcheu Djomkam

The two-year FLAIR award of £300,000 (US$391,500) will significantly further Dr Tientcheu’s independent career development, research, training and leadership plans. He will be based at the MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM, and will spend time in London at LSHTM for Bioinformatics training and analysis of his high-throughput RNA-Sequencing data, mentored by Prof. Beate Kampmann and Taane Clark.

“I am absolutely delighted that Dr Tientcheu’s hard work and commitment to research in tuberculosis has been rewarded with this prestigious fellowship. It will set him up on the path to independence, and represents an honour and recognition for our team, the MRC Unit and its training opportunities for talented African scientists” states Prof Kampmann.

The 2019 FLAIR funded scientists were selected from a competitive pool of more than 700 applicants. Their research is diverse, ranging from providing renewable energy solutions and addressing climate change, to tackling food security and targeting health and environmental problems that are most acute for people living in African countries.

Professor Felix Dapare Dakora, President of the African Academy of Sciences, says, “The AAS welcomes the exceptional FLAIR grantees to its postdoctoral family. We recognise that well-planned postdoctoral programmes are critical in promoting scientific and research excellence and leadership in Africa and so want to be catalytic in inspiring African institutions to critically think about the role of and defining postdoctoral programmes that suit their needs and purpose and can be instrumental in driving socio-economic development on the continent.”

Thanks to the FLAIR scheme, some of the scientists are returning to the continent from countries such as the UK and USA to continue their careers in African institutions. This is an important part of the programme – attracting scientists back from the high income countries where they have completed their postdoctoral training so that they can play a part in building the research infrastructure at home. To keep improving its scientific output, Africa needs to pay urgent attention to growing and retaining its scientific talent and FLAIR is one of a number of initiatives through which The AAS is tackling this issue.

“We look forward to welcoming the FLAIR grantees to the community of AAS postdoctoral fellows. FLAIR  grantees will have access to AAS’ wider programme of support to develop them as independent research leaders including leadership, entrepreneurship and media,science communication and public engagement training, a mentorship scheme with internationally recognized mentors, proposal writing workshops, Open Access Publishing (no fees), via AAS Open Research and networking opportunities both regionally and with the UK and to develop regional and international collaborations”, says Dr Judy Omumbo, Programme Manager, Affiliates and Postdoctoral Programmes.

The selected scientists will gather in Naivasha from 4 to 5 April 2019, hosted by the AAS, to celebrate the start of their 2-year FLAIR research fellowships.

The academies are also announcing the opening of the next round of FLAIR applications, closing on 15 May 2019. This year the academies want to encourage more applications from under-represented countries, particularly Francophone and Lusophone countries. For more details about eligibility and how to apply see – https://royalsociety.org/grants-schemes-awards/grants/flair/.