His Royal Highness Prince of Wales visited MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM on Thursday 1st November 2018 as part of his tour to The Gambia. The visit was to celebrate The Gambia’s return into the Commonwealth in February 2018.
The visit was the Prince of Wales’ first trip to The Gambia after the Commonwealth Heads of Government unanimously decided in April this year that he should succeed Her Majesty The Queen as the Head of the Commonwealth.
Upon arrival, His Royal Highness and his team were welcomed by Prof Umberto D’Alessandro, the Unit Director. The first stop of the tour was the Ida Secka Entomology Laboratory where Dr. Davis Nwakanma, Head of Laboratory Services, explained how the facility investigates the dynamics and determinants of malaria infection. It also supports controlled human malaria infection studies that would allow testing efficiently malaria vaccine candidates and new antimalarial treatments. The laboratory also enables the Unit to engage and collaborate on other vector-borne and emerging diseases such as the Zika virus and carries out studies on insecticide resistance, vector behaviour and vector competence. The research supports malaria control strategies such as Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs), indoor residual spray (IRS) and other vector control measures.
Professor Andrew Prentice, Nutrition Theme Leader, then welcomed His Royal Highness to the Biobank, a repository of human and pathogen biological materials, mainly blood, saliva, urine, serum, cell lines, nucleic acid and bacterial cultures from research projects. The stored samples provide invaluable support for scientific research for disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment. A major component of the biobank is the DNA bank, established in November 2000, as the first in sub-Saharan Africa, which supports studies on the genetics of complex diseases.
His Royal Highness and his team then visited the PCR and Genomics Laboratory. The post-PCR is part of the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory which, hosts DNA and visualization of genetic differences and similarities that enable disease diagnosis, identification and characterisation of patterns of interest. These are useful for accurate and timely identification of pathogens responsible for disease outbreaks allowing the choice of suitable intervention or vaccines, to control outbreaks.
The visit concluded with 8 poster presentations from the Unit’s staff, including Dr. Karen Forrest presented on activities within the Clinical Services Department, Dr Helen Brotherton on her research on Early Kangaroo Mother Care. Dr Kevin Opondo highlighted his Entomological work conducted in The Gambia, Dr Mustapha Bittaye presented on the importance of giving life-saving vaccines in pregnancy, Dr Uduak Okomo spoke about saving newborns from infections, Dr. Effua Usuf presented our Women in Science programme, Amat Bah focused on sharing the research results on unresolved challenge of stunting and Dr Modou Jobe provided an overview on obesity and NCDs.
The Unit Director Professor Umberto D’Alessandro commented “It is an honour and a pleasure to welcome to our Unit His Royal Highness and his team. I hope we have been able to communicate our passion and commitment for the work we are doing. The Unit’s broad research portfolio is built around issues of public health importance in sub-Saharan Africa, and our work aims at providing new solutions to improve the health of the local populations. Moreover, the Unit is investing considerable resources for the training of young African scientists and the capacity building of sister institutions across West Africa. All this is possible, among others, thanks to the support we receive from the MRC UK.”