25th May 2017

Malaria Experimental Genetics course travels to Ghana

The Malaria Experimental Genetics course was established in 2011 and has proved popular with malaria researchers from all over the world.

In May 2017, 18 students from nine African countries gathered in Accra, Ghana to learn the latest experimental techniques for manipulating the genomes of Plasmodium malaria parasites. Malaria continues to kill 400,000 people annually across the world, and genome editing – disrupting individual genes to study the effects on function, drug resistance and infection – is the latest weapon in understanding and controlling this devastating disease.

The Malaria Experimental Genetics course – run by Wellcome Genome Campus Advanced Courses and Scientific Conferences and led by Julian Rayner, Oliver Bilker and Marcus Lee from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute – was established in 2011 and has proved popular with malaria researchers from all over the world. In recent years, the course has alternated between the Wellcome Genome Campus and disease-endemic countries as part of the programme’s  overseas arm. This has allowed the course to engage and collaborate with research communities in low- and middle-income countries, drawing on regional expertise and provide for scientists unable to travel to the Genome Campus.

In 2015, the course ran at Mahidol University in Bangkok, in collaboration with the Faculty of Tropical Medicine, and in 2017 an equally successful collaboration was established with Professor Gordon Awandare at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), who, with great enthusiasm, offered to host the course at the University of Ghana in Accra. WACCBIP is a regional centre of excellence in malaria research, with long-standing ties to the Sanger Institute, and the offer was accepted with equal enthusiasm.

Overseas events are always an adventure, and when the Ghanaian rules on import duty suddenly changed, impounding the shipment of course materials (along with several other research shipments to the University of Ghana) at Accra airport, this course proved no exception! Luckily, after a few tense weeks of careful negotiations by our collaborators in Ghana (along with a little government lobbying and a lot of contingency planning by Skype), the shipment arrived at the University of Ghana the day before the start of the course, where a small army of WACCBIP PhD students had assembled to unpack the truckload of pallets.

Ultimately, partnering with WACCBIP – along with experts in malaria genetics from Kenya, Senegal and The Gambia – provided the perfect home for the 2017 course. Students from institutes across Africa spent a week learning cutting-edge approaches for editing and analysing the genomes of different Plasmodium malaria parasites, taking away with them not only new skills, but hopefully the confidence and contacts to help apply them effectively to their projects and careers.

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