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A Schizophrenia Study in Africa is Boosting Equity in Global Genetics Research

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The largest psychiatric genetics study ever done in Africa is increasing the diversity of data on mental illness, training a new generation of geneticists, and chipping away at the genetic underpinnings of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

By Tom Ulrich

It was not quite noon yet, but Mirembe had already had a long day. She had come to Butabika Hospital in Uganda early that morning, first to see a nurse and a doctor, and now stepped into a warm, sparsely-furnished office. Sitting down across the table from a research assistant, she wondered how long she was going to be there. But she was curious. The nurse had told her a little about a research study on mental illness and that she was eligible to participate if she agreed to sign up. She was full of questions. 

Mirembe (not her real name) is one of tens of thousands of outpatients seen every year at Butabika, the national mental health hospital for all of Uganda, located on a hill on the outskirts of the capital city, Kampala. Over the next two hours, she would learn in detail what the research study was about and decide whether to participate. If she said yes, she would then answer more than 150 questions about her health, provide some of her saliva for DNA, and become one of more than 19,000 people across four African countries who, over the last two years, have signed on to help scientists in Africa, the United States, and beyond better understand the genetic roots of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric illnesses.

That effort, the Neuropsychiatric Genetics of African Populations-Psychosis (or NeuroGAP-Psychosis) project, is the largest study of psychiatric genetics ever conducted in Africa. Bringing together scientists and doctors from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, and the United States, the four-year-long project seeks to engage 35,000 Africans in a quest to gain a deeper biological understanding of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder across a diversity of populations.

We could be the first people to have 35,000 DNA samples in Africa. That’s huge.

Dr. Dickens akena, makerere university

Current genetic data on mental illness are mostly from people of European ancestry, and NeuroGAP-Psychosis aims to change that, by ensuring that African science and people are represented in the search for genetic markers for these diseases.

“The world is moving towards precision medicines,” said Dr. Dickens Akena, a psychiatrist and the NeuroGAP-Psychosis lead investigator in Uganda, and a psychiatry lecturer at Makerere University in Kampala. “If we’re going to make medications or diagnostics that are tailored towards certain genetic variations, then we need to include populations from Africa in the genetic data. If we don’t do that, the African continent and its inhabitants will be left behind.”

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UniCare App: 24/7 Access to Counselling

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UniCare App: 24/7 Access to Professional Counselling Services. Available on Google Play Store.

The Counselling and Guidance Centre (CGC) has developed UniCare, a counselling App for the Makerere University community members (Staff and Students).

Do you have personal concerns that need addressing?

Do you need to improve your life skills?

Are you struggling with something and need to talk to someone professional in confidence?

Then download UniCare from the Play Store and use it at any time of your convenience.

You can access counselling services through instant messaging, phone calls and other forms.

Enquiries:

Tel: +256-751-700897
Email: rbaguma[at]cit.ac.ug, henry.nsubuga[at]mak.ac.ug

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Call for Applications: PhD Fellowships in Bioethics (4th Cohort)

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The Davies Lecture Theatre (Right), School of Biomedical Sciences (Blue) and other buildings at the College of Health Sciences (CHS), Mulago Campus, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda

Applications are invited for PhD fellowships in bioethics from Makerere University College of Health Sciences (CHS) faculty and individuals who participate in the academic activities of the college who are interested and COMMITTED to becoming bioethics scholars.

Successful applicants should be willing to become bioethics scholars as they work within the structured and mentored training programme with a focus on any aspect of international research bioethics related to Health Sciences. Funding will be available to support 2 successful doctoral candidates up to 3 years of accelerated training leading to the award of the Makerere University doctoral degree.

Eligibility

This training is open to faculty including people who contribute to teaching and research at Makerere University or one of its partner institutions in Uganda, who meet any of the following criteria:

a. Able to articulate a clear research bioethics problem of interest to them.
b. Demonstrate prior participation in bioethics, beyond having submitted research proposals to an IRB.
c. Demonstrate a basic understanding of bioethics in order to know that this is an appropriate next step for the applicant.
d. Demonstrate past active participation in bioethics in health service delivery or at the interface of health related ethical-legal issues
e. Provide evidence of experience in research in bioethics and or authorship in this field
f. Prior master’s level or fellowship level training in bioethics or related fields.

Criteria for Selection

  1. Demonstrated interest in doctoral research training and conducting research with a focus on
    research bioethics.
  2. Potential to handle rigorous academic requirements of the doctoral program.
  3. Having a plan for career development
  4. Capacity towards attaining research leadership and international recognition in bioethics.
  5. Female candidates and medical doctors are especially encouraged to apply

Application Process

Applications must be submitted to makbioethics[at]gmail.com and should consist of a cover letter (1 page only), a resume (not more than 3 pages), a personal statement (Maximum 1 page), a Makerere University formatted PhD research concept (Maximum 10 pages) and two letters of recommendation (sent separately by the referees to makbioethics[at]gmail.com). The personal statement should include your contribution to the academic and research life of a department at Makerere University College of Health Sciences, your aspirations for career progression in the next 5-7 years, research interests and any information you consider relevant.

Closing date for the receipt of applications is 8th October 2021.

Enquiries can be forwarded to the PI, of the PhD bioethics research training Program on makbioethics[at]gmail.com

Timelines:

  • Application deadline: October 8, 2021
  • Interviews: October 15, 2021
  • Notification date: October 22, 2021
  • Proposed start date: November 1, 2021

Part of this training will take place at Johns Hopkins University Berman Institute of Bioethics in the USA in Year 1 for a total of 2-3 months. Successful candidates will receive a monthly stipend based on USA National Institutes of Health regulations, tuition, research funds and travel to the USA. Applicants should demonstrate excellent communications skills and will be expected to work as part of a highly motivated, result oriented bioethics group.

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IDI Supports Wakiso’s Point of Care Electronic Medical Records

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Representatives from IDI, Mildmay Uganda and Wakiso District Leadership that took part in the handover of equipment to support EMR-POC on 13th September 2021.

The Makerere University Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) Kampala Region HIV Project handed over equipment worth UGX 460,000,000 to the Wakiso District Leadership to support Point of Care Electronic Medical Records (EMR-POC). This was made possible with support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The equipment includes Computers, furniture, biometric scanners and networking equipment for a wireless mesh. In attendance was the Wakiso District Leadership led by the Principal assistant secretary, Ms. Babirye Olivia, as well as representatives from IDI and Mildmay Uganda.

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