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Researcher Spotlight: Dr Faith Osier

26 Aug, 2014

Faith OsierDr Faith Hope Among’in Osier is a Clinical Research Fellow and Group leader at the KEMRI-Wellcome Research Institute in Kenya. She holds a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellowship in Public Health and Tropical Medicine and was recently awarded the Royal Society Pfizer Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes for African science. Here, Dr Osier shares her passion for research on the mechanisms of developing immunity to malaria, especially in children…

What are you working on?

I try to understand how adults in Africa learn to live in harmony with the parasite responsible for malaria, such that infections do not make them ill. This knowledge could help us design vaccines that would protect children, who can die as a result of a malaria infection.

What does your average day involve?

My average day has evolved over the years as I have graduated from being a junior to a more senior researcher. Earlier on, I’d spend a lot of time in the laboratory generating data and less time in the office – reading scientific literature, analysing data and writing up my work.

More recently, I spend most of my time in the office, still reading, analysing data and writing research grants and papers. Importantly I meet with my students and research assistants to discuss their work. I also spend at least one to two hours each day on administrative issues and/or academic meetings within my department.

Why is your work important?

Malaria still claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of children each year and has a major economic impact on the lives of many in sub-Saharan Africa. Children that survive severe malaria can be left with permanent physical disability that takes many forms. It’s really important that we find ways to control and eventually eliminate malaria for the health and economic empowerment of Africa.

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Children in Kilifi county, Kenya present to a local dispensary for testing (Photo credit: Juliana Wambua)

What do you hope the impact of your work will be?

My dream is that I can contribute to “making malaria history” through effective vaccination.

Imagine a world where young babies and infants are vaccinated for malaria in rural clinics, alongside other vaccines in the Expanded Programme for Immunisation. I’d love to see this happen, children getting vaccinated and having the opportunity to live, improve their lives and those of their communities.

How did you come to be working on this topic/in this field?

I joined the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in 1998 as a junior doctor and was interested in training in paediatrics. It was here that I was introduced to research on malaria in general, and begun to understand that we know so little about this disease that has been with humans for such a long time.

I met a vibrant team of enthusiastic researchers, and this really drew me in. Before I joined the immunology research team, I would joke that the immunologists asked the same question about malaria over and over again, and did not seem to get any wiser. Now that joke is on me, and I appreciate better why it is that we still do not understand how humans become immune to malaria.

How has Wellcome funding helped you/your research/your career?

The Wellcome Trust has been instrumental to getting me established as a credible African research scientist. I competed and won a training fellowship that supported my PhD studies. My current work is supported by an intermediate fellowship, and this has enabled me to compete successfully for an MRC/DFID African Research Leader award.

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Research mentorship Kilifi style!

The Wellcome Trust also supported (and continues to support) other brilliant researchers, who have mentored me in different ways and contributed significantly to my development.

Funding from the Trust has also allowed me to mentor and train younger researchers and I have a research team that I am really proud of! I commend the Trust for their international portfolio, for opening up funding opportunities for researchers for tropical and developing countries. Without this, I doubt that I would have taken up a career in research.

What’s the most frequently asked question about your work?

When will we have a malaria vaccine?

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Faith Osier and Gathoni Kamuyu doing malaria antibody testing in the lab. (Photo credit: Brett Lowe)

Which question about your work do you most dread – and why?

Why is it that after so many years we still do not have a malaria vaccine? What are you researchers doing?

This question often comes from laymen – and it is challenging to explain in lay language why basic science research takes time, and why we must remain nevertheless optimistic!

Tell us something about you that might surprise us…

I love international rugby matches and am a strong supporter of our Kenya Sevens Team

What keeps you awake at night?

The fact that people are developing immunity to malaria all around me – I feel that this process is staring me in the face- if you like, and I must be able to see and understand how it is happening.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

It’s a funny statement but I think its true… “Life is not a rehearsal, LIVE IT!”

The ‘chain reaction’ question, set by Prof Scott Waddell is this: “If you were able to start again, what would you rather work on? Or do?”

If I could start again, I’d still work on malaria…it is a fascinating disease.

You can find out more about Dr Osier and her research on the KEMRI-Wellcome website.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 Aug, 2014 3:52 pm

    Great work from a great scientist and an interesting interview. Keep it up :)

  2. 26 Aug, 2014 3:54 pm

    Reblogged this on The Rockstar Anthropologist.

  3. Rupert Delimini permalink
    24 Nov, 2014 9:29 am

    I have personally met Dr. Osier and I must say she is such an inspiration to me.

  4. 14 Dec, 2014 12:40 pm

    A great scientist is in Faith Osier. But l believe we are yet to see a lot coming from her.

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