SANBio mobility grant grows capacity and collaboration in Namibian animal disease research

PCR

Mr Eduard Roos, a PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University in South Africa recently received a BioFISA II mobility grant from SANBio to attend a practical workshop at the University of Namibia’s (UNAM) School of Veterinary Medicine. His visit grew molecular research capacity at UNAM and helped establish a long-term collaboration in veterinary disease research in the region.

 

Nomadic farmers in Namibia bring their livestock to rural animal clinics only once every two to three months. So, the UNAM Veterinary School has to investigate the most common livestock diseases and develop rapid diagnostic assays to properly treat these animals. However, some of these vet students have never seen a modern molecular laboratory, which uses equipment such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines as standard tools.

A well-resourced group of veterinary researchers skilled in PCR techniques would be hugely beneficial to the Namibian agricultural industry by improving planned herd management programs for commercial farmers and identifying common diseases quickly.

Roos, coming from the SA MRC Centre for TB Research at the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at Stellenbosch University, set out to help improve the capacity of the UNAM School of Veterinary Medicine. It is for this reason that he organised and attended the Introduction to Molecular Biology: Theory and Practical workshop held from 6-10 February 2017 at the University of Namibia’s (UNAM) School of Veterinary Medicine.

“The workshop included practical and theoretical parts since the UNAM Veterinary School is still very young and only started 4 years ago,” Roos wrote in a report about the workshop. “They lacked the necessary human capital to make full use of their equipment so this is a great opportunity for the school to get involved in field research in Namibia.”

He further explains that the workshop strengthened the network between the UNAM Veterinary School and Stellenbosch University. Roos and his co-organiser of the workshop, Dr Borden Mushonga of UNAM, taught students how to use PCR as a diagnostic tool to detect Ehrlichia canis, a common disease-causing bacterium, in the blood of dogs. They taught the students the process of DNA extraction, gel electrophoresis visualisation as well as how to use the sequences to investigate genetic variations and relationships between individuals - basic molecular tools for a research biologist.

Roos says that the mobility grant helps by investing in knowledge exchange which in turn will increase the human capacity of UNAM, to enable the Veterinary School to conduct biological research and diagnosis. Roos trained some students, mostly women, to be capable of doing PCR experiments by themselves.

Roos’ mobility grant also helped foster a collaboration by starting a research group called the Animal Disease Diagnostic Research Unit of Namibia (ADDRUN), and with this, he was then asked to become an Associated Researcher with UNAM Veterinary School.

The workshop allowed Roos to discuss with researchers at the Veterinary School the possibility to investigate infectious diseases in animals (domestic and wild) that could cross from animals to humans. This opened doors for him to explore diseases such as rabies, and bovine tuberculosis, which have an unknown status in Namibia as there is relatively little research done in the country on these diseases.

Looking forward, Roos will continue to give technical input and help develop new techniques for the facilities available to the UNAM Veterinary School. He plans to co-supervise UNAM students and “impart knowledge to the next generation of researchers,” he writes.

Beyond capacity development, he believes that the research resulting from the grant-sponsored trip will give answers to what animal diseases are important in Namibia, and help inform management programs to control these diseases and their spread.