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Tanzanian scientist wins Royal Society Pfizer Award for Sickle Cell research

19 Sep, 2011

SEM of sickled and other red blood cells.

An African scientist who is working to save the lives of people with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) in Tanzania has been awarded the Royal Society Pfizer Award.  Dr Julie Makani, who is conducting research on anaemia in SCD, will receive £60,000 towards a 12-month study which aims to provide a better understanding of the molecular, genetic and environmental mechanisms of this disease.

Dr Makani, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellow in Public Health and Tropical Medicine, is based in the Haematology Department of Tanzania’s leading biomedical research university, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences. Dr Makani has provided evidence that anaemia is a common cause of morbidity and mortality in SCD in Tanzania. She has developed a framework to conduct a clinical trial of Hydroxyurea – a chemotherapy agent with potent effects on the bone marrow – in the treatment of anaemia in SCD.

Hydroxyurea increases foetal haemoglobin (HbF) levels but it has a direct effect on haematopoiesis – blood cell formation – through poorly understood mechanisms. The award money, provided through a grant from Pfizer Inc., will allow Makani to extend the clinical trial to include a description of the haematopoietic response to Hydroxyurea. It will also allow her to explore genetic and environmental factors (socioeconomic status, education and access to health care) associated with the haematopoietic response to hydroxyurea.

Dr Makani hopes that the research will lead to improved diagnosis and treatment thereby reducing the burden of anaemia to individuals, the health system and local community. Commenting on her work and the prize, she said:

“It is an honour for our work to receive this recognition. I hope that this award will help change the perception about science and technology in Africa, as it provides validation that it is possible to conduct genomic research in Africa. The recognition of our work by the Royal Society and Pfizer will serve to show that is possible to develop excellence in science, while integrating this into improving healthcare and building expertise in sickle cell anaemia.”

The award grant and a £5,000 personal prize will be presented to Dr Makani at a ceremony on 18 October 2011 at the Royal Society in London.

Image Credit: Wellcome Images
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