Majidah Hamid-Adiamoh joined MRC Unit The Gambia as a scientific officer in 2004 and has been working with the malaria research programme ever since. She talks about winning the L’Oréal-UNESCO ‘For Women in Science’ fellowship, her career so far, and her plans for the future.
I started at The Unit working on a clinical trial for a new malaria drug. Samples were collected from patients six times per day and I was responsible for performing two-assays on each sample from four different patients – that’s 48 assays every day! It was challenging but I enjoyed every bit of it.
I am very proud of the quality of malaria research output from my department, thanks to the quality of its leaders and staff. The Unit has the right people, the right environment and the appropriate facilities to conceive an idea and be able to implement it.
Following that first project, I have continued with malaria research both in the field and in the lab. I have taken a lead role in a number of projects defining the genetic profiles, or ‘genotypes’, of different malaria ‘vectors’ – agents that carry and transmit malaria, such as mosquitos – and I am currently working on a project characterising malaria transmission in The Gambia.
As part of the entomology team, my role is to genotype the malaria vector population. The study is in its final phase and, so far, we have found an emerging mosquito population (Anopheles funestus) that were not originally present in The Gambia. It will be interesting to determine whether this mosquito population is capable of carrying and transmitting malaria in The Gambia and assess how it will impact on efforts to control the spread of infection.
I am now planning a project that looks at people with malaria who are asymptomatic to explore how genetic diversity and other factors influence the density of the gametocyte germ cells in their blood.
Malaria gametocytes are a type of germ cell generated inside a host infected with malaria. When these germ cells are taken up by a mosquito feeding on the host, they are stored inside the parasite, ready to be transmitted to another body. I am also investigating whether a host immune response to the gametocytes affects their transmission to mosquitoes.
The project will require blood samples from healthy, asymptomatic Nigerian children and adults in Malaria-transmission hotspots in Lagos. I will need to store the samples for some time so I intend to process the blood samples for DNA and RNA extraction as soon as collected and transfer them to The Unit in The Gambia for analysis.
I became interested in this topic because of the present era of malaria control and the focus on the elimination of the human reservoir of infection. Most studies so far have focused on clinical and symptomatic malaria as opposed to asymptomatic infections.
I am self-funding my PhD tuition at the University of Lagos in Nigeria and the L’Oreal UNESCO fellowship will fund just a part of my project.
It has been a challenging journey towards being able to do a PhD since I completed my Masters programme in 2010. The award ceremony was a day I will never forget: I felt encouraged in the pursuit of my research dreams and reassured of success.
When they told me that I had won I kept asking over and over again what the lady was telling me. I did not believe it!
The awards showcase the great work that women are doing around the world to contribute to human development. This is the right time to intensify efforts to boost women’s confidence that they too can come up with scientific solutions to many of the problems the world faces.
Women have been solving issues around human survival throughout history and I think what is happening now is just a formalisation and a better acknowledgment of women’s problem-solving abilities.
My advice to women aspiring to a career in science is that they should never allow challenges along the way to discourage them from pursuing their dream. Most importantly, they must support other young women in their scientific careers. The more women we encourage into scientific careers, the more quickly their skills can be translated into a better world for us all to live in.
Applicants for MRC-funded fellowships no longer have to apply within a certain number of years of finishing their PhD.
This is important to me because age restricting career opportunities discourages people who have gone through the rough and odd ways in their career and yet have a strong determination to advance. This frequently applies to women from Africa who, due to family and financial constraints, have to thread their way slowly to their dreamland.
Read more about when Majidah won the For Women in Science Doctoral Fellowship from L’Oréal-UNESCO on our MRC Unit The Gambia site
This article was first published by Insight Medical Research Council UK on the 21 January 2016