Alex N Kasembeli (Kenya; MSc and PhD student (July 2011 – April 2015)

I am a holder of a first class Bsc. Hons in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya. I have over seven years experience in Genetics and molecular biology in both clinical and research laboratory set-ups. Growing up in a third world country, an area worst hit by the world’s most deleterious infectious diseases, I would not help but to venture into a career that would help alienate these diseases. The search for a clear understanding of the pathogenicity of various diseases has been a pursuit I have longed to explore and therefore this opportunity gave me the platform to achieve it.  The diverseness of the program in tackling both life and medical sciences while focusing at the genetic and molecular level was instrumental in my modelling a career path in medical research.

Prior to joining the NCD Training program, I acquired hands-on experience in research procedures and techniques used in high technology laboratory in various capacities at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and in the HIV Research Laboratory (HIV-R) ISO: 15189:2007 at Kenya Medical Research Institute/ Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (KEMRI/CDC) Research and public health collaboration.
I contributed fully in various ongoing studies, in the determination of HIV-Drug Resistance as a possible reason for treatment failure among anti-retroviral treated patients. I also got involved in other studies including those assessing HIV genetic diversity, as well as evolution of mutations among treated patients. The vast experience obtained while working in these projects enhanced my research capabilities and later on I was able to pilot the evaluation and optimization of a cheaper In-house dried blood spot assay, for use in resource limited settings. Due to my fast learning ability, commitment and a deeper insight in assigned areas, I was involved in scientific writing where I co-authored three published manuscripts; 1. Published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, “Field Evaluation of a broadly sensitive In- house genotyping system against ViroSeq genotyping system for Dried blood spot samples in resource limited setting”, 2. Published in the Journal of Virological Methods, “Performance of six commercial Enzyme Immunoassays and two Alternative HIV-Testing Algorithms for the diagnosis of HIV-1 infection in Kisumu, Western Kenya" and 3. Published in the world Journal of AIDS, "Antiretroviral-Drug Resistant Mutations and Genetic Diversity in HIV-1 Infected Individuals in Nigeria".
In my capacity, I played a key role in implementation of total quality management (TQM) and entrenching quality systems in all sections in the HIV-R laboratory ay KEMRI/CDC. These systems were in fulfilment of requirements towards seeking accreditation of the laboratory in line with ISO standards by the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) which was later approved by SANAS board in March, 2008.

My research interests are to develop molecular systems to help in the discovery of drug target sites as well as new genetic variants that predispose to disease to aid as disease markers in diagnosis and patient management. In addition, try and decipher plausible mechanisms of action that underlay genetically predisposed conditions. I am also interested to learn and have hands-on experience in proposal/grant writing. I desire to work on various clinical and research studies and be able to implement high standards of quality in order to enhance and develop better health care systems for the people. I also desire to share the knowledge obtained and become an academic researcher and mentor young upcoming scientists.

The NCD training program provided a good framework for my career development with an invaluable opportunity to complete my MSc in a scientifically nourishing environment.  This was a solid foundation that enabled me upgrade my MSc. to PhD immediately after.  Interacting with other students during student meetings and having great minds of the supervisors who doubled up effectively as mentors as well as the principal investigators, was a plus and this made me grow tremendously as far as scientific research is concerned. Just as Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen this far, is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. I have seen this far by standing on the shoulders of the highly skilled and accomplished leaders; my supervisors and mentors. In addition, I learned leadership skills and how to conduct mature scientific research. I am now a better young scientist. I am really priviledged and humbled to have been part of the NIH Fogarty training group.  Thank you for getting me to the next step of my career.

Special achievements: American Society of Nephrology Kidney STARS Travel Award 2014, University of the Witwatersrand Postgraduate Merit Award for 2012 and 2013, Whitehead Scientific Travel Award, 2012, University of the Witwatersrand, Faculty of Health Sciences Research Committee Individual grant, 2012 and National Health Laboratory Service Research Trust, 2012.