Stellenbosch University is among five African institutions to benefit from a grant of nearly R102 million (£6 million) from the United Kingdom’s Global Challenges Research Fund to tackle infectious diseases in their home countries in collaboration with the Francis Crick Institute in London.
Called the Crick African Network, this is one of several similar projects selected across the developing world to benefit from “one of the most ambitious international research programmes ever created”. According to a media release issued by the Research Councils UK (RCUK), a total of £225 million (the equivalent of R3,8 billion) has been invested across 37 interdisciplinary projects to address challenges in fields such as health, humanitarian crises, conflict, the environment, the economy, domestic violence, society, and technology
The Crick African Network will provide successful African post-doctoral scientists with two years of intensive training and mentorship – the first year at the Francis Crick Institute in London, and the second year at their African partner institute – to foster the next generation of research leaders in Africa.
The other African partners are the University of Cape Town, the Uganda Virus Research Institute, the University of Ghanaand the Medical Research Council Unit in Gambia, representing the West African Global Health Alliance.
Dr Ben Loos, head of the neuro research group in SU’s Department of Physiological Sciences and one of the principal partners, says they are delighted by the announcement: “Over the next five years, the project will make a major contribution in building a network of highly skilled teams of experts across Africa. It will provide unique opportunities to enhance skills development and training of top scientists with a focus on primarily tuberculosis, malaria and HIV, as well as infection-related pathology relevant to our immediate and country-specific needs.”
The other principal partner at SU is Prof Gerhard Walzl, an expert on TB resistance in the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics in SU’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. The project leader is Prof Robert Wilkinson, Director of the Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa at the University of Cape Town.
This winter, the Crick and African partners will hold workshops to promote the fellowship scheme and help potential applicants develop strong proposals. Applications will then open for the selection of six fellows in July 2018. An additional 12 researchers will be recruited in two further calls.
Dr. Gordon Awandare, who is coordinating the University of Ghana’s involvement, says the grant will help to keep African researchers on the contintent: “This grant responds directly to a critical need for us. Our postdocs will have this fantastic opportunity to link up with top scientists at the Crick, and get access to some of the best research facilities in the world. The best part is that this fellowship will help keep our postdocs in Africa and move them towards the establishment of independent careers at leading research institutions on this continent.”