Success story of Tyan Collaborative Grant Award (TCGA)

Dr. Atunga Nyachieo, a Kenyan scientist has obtained both phage therapy specialized training and multiple collaborators in a foreign collaborative laboratory lead by Dr. Jesca Nakavuma at the Makerere University, Uganda in just two weeks (2nd -16th September, 2018) through the TYAN Collaborative Grant Award (TCGA). TCGA is a short term funding of $ 3,000 provided by TYAN to its members to enable them establish collaborations and scientific networking.  TYAN is worldwide young scientist network of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) comprising of TWAS Young Affiliates and Alumni with administrative office in TWAS, Trieste, Italy.

Dr. Nyachieo, a young affiliate of TWAS since 2014 and TYAN member since 2016, has been struggling with the challenge of antibiotic resistance by bacteria and hopes to use phage as alternatives for therapy. In developing countries, antimicrobial resistance and deaths associated with it has been rising over the years. Indeed, its estimated that by 2050, 10 million people worldwide will die of antimicrobial resistance out of which over 80?aths will be in developing countries (4.15 million from Africa, 4.73 million from Asia and only 0.39 million from USA and 0.32 million from Europe (from a report on Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a Crisis for the Health and Wealth of Nations, 2014). These statistics have been the driving factor for Dr. Atunga Nyachieo’s scientific focus on finding alternatives by working on bacteriophages (also called Phages) for therapy.

Phages are viruses that kill bacteria. These viruses exist naturally in the environment and co-evolve with the bacteria. They are specific for any given bacteria and can kill both susceptible and resistance bacteria. Dr. Nyachieo has focused on the isolation and characterization of phages to combat antibiotic resistance E. coli and Salmonella which are a big challenge for livestock productivity and human health especially in East Africa. Although this scientist has been working on these phages he lacked some essential skills on phage host range assay, a technique that enables him to isolate a broad spectrum phage that can kill either a wide range of E. coli strains or Salmonella strains. He also needed to study the physico-chemical properties of the isolated phages to understand optimal conditions of phage lytic activity. In order to bridge this knowledge gap, Dr. Nyachieo sought to get a collaborator in a nearby country, and luckily, he got links to Dr. Jesca Nakavuma, a renowned microbiologist and initiator of phage research in Uganda, based at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (COVAB) at Makerere University. Dr. Nakavuma accepted to host him but Dr. Nyachieo lacked funding to support his travel and stay in Uganda. Thanks to TYAN’s TCGA grant that gave him an opportunity to travel and gain the skills in Uganda and now has gone back to his country to continue in the search of more broad-spectrum phages.
During his visit, Dr. Nyachieo worked very hard and under pressure due to the time limit (only 2 weeks) that the grant would permit in order to produce some useful results in line with the TCGA grant’s mission of being result oriented. He got to learn the host range assay and physico-chemical properties assays and during this time he isolated both E. coli and Salmonella phages.   Dr. Nyachieo plans to further purify his newly found phages and perform genetic characterization to ensure that they do not contain any toxic genes or lysogenic genes before they can be used for therapy. News of Dr.

Nyachieo’s findings spread throughout the Makerere University which got him an invitation to share with students and University staff on Friday 14th September, 2018. Dr. Nyachieo gave a 1 hour lecture and another 1 hr for questions. This excitement inspired the University staff as well as students who are enthusiastic about phage therapy. Dr. Jesca Nakavuma has introduced Dr. Nyachieo to her collaborators, Prof. Martha Clokie in Leicester (UK), Dr. Elizabeth Kutter of Evergreen State College (USA) and Dr. Tobi Nagel, the President and Founder of Phages for Global Health (USA).  These collaborators will help Dr. Nyachieo to continue with his work especially on phage purification and genetic characterization before application for therapy.

During his recent attendance to TWAS General meeting (November, 2018) in Trieste (Italy), Dr. Nyachieo described his experience in Uganda as exciting and awesome! He mixed well with the Ugandan people and integrated with their rich culture. He enjoyed his stay as well as a variety of Uganda foods. Dr. Nyachieo now encourages new TYAN scientists to apply for this TCGA grant to enhance their scientific mobility and networking. He further said that moving to a foreign country enables a scientist to focus on his research work without disturbance to attend meetings or other social or administrative ties as will occur in home country. In short, through TCGA, Dr. Nyachieo got trained, got collaborators and inspired other scientists and students on phage research. His research work will also result in a scientific publication which is very important for his career progression.