Lillian Wambua is one of the 2011 African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) Fellows. Her passion for genetic studies on Animal trypanosomiasis (Nagana) formed the backbone of her PhD degree in Characterization of Trypanosoma congolense-induced endotoxic shock response in mouse models, which she attained in February 2011.
She has been studying the components of the trypanosome parasite that are responsible for causing disease in cattle and how the immune response to the parasite components differ between tolerant and susceptible animals at the genetic level (for the past four years). The results indicate particular immunity gene responses in the early stages of disease influence whether the animal develops severe disease or recovers. Of particular interest is that tolerant animals respond very early in infection by switching on genes of the inflammation pathway compared with the susceptible animals which respond at a later phase. In other parasitic disease, inflammation is known to be a desirable response that limits the multiplication of parasites in the animals, thereby promoting survival and recovery. It is possible that switching on inflammation genes in early infection with an appropriate compound e.g. a drug may positively influence survival in the susceptible animals during disease. Lillian has developed a keen interest also in livestock-wildlife interactions and how these interactions influence transmission of diseases to livestock, which will be the focus of her future research.
Lillian is an early stage researcher and also a lecturer in Parasitology and Immunology at the University of Nairobi and believes that this fellowship will accelerate her career development by equipping her with vital skills for a successful career in agricultural research, top on the list being fundraising skills, leadership skills, writing skills and mentorship by a senior researcher. The fresh PhD graduate with less than a year of postdoctoral experience, but with aspirations and great outlook for a career in agricultural research realizes that a fruitful research and teaching career in agriculture will be greatly boosted by mentorship by an experienced researcher. She believes that the fellowship will also equip her with the ability to be a mentor to upcoming researchers, a quality which will be a great asset to her in the University set-up to nurture the potential of the next cadre of researchers. Lillian also looks forward to being part of a vibrant research team, forming strategic partnerships and bringing in funds to do research on a range of livestock diseases. The attainment of these goals will be greatly accelerated by good writing and presentation and fundraising skills which will be offered by the fellowship. The leadership skills attained on this fellowship will be useful to her in the future to manage and motivate a cohesive research team.
Fellowship contributions to the society
Working at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) since 2006, she plans on using the skills developed as an AWARD fellow at ILRI to mobilize research funds and partnerships for intensive research activities on livestock diseases. Her vision and focus is to engage in research which will impact product and policy development to reduce the burden of livestock diseases, thereby resulting in healthier and productive animals which rural small-holder farmers and women can rely on to alleviate poverty and improve their livelihoods. She looks forward to working not only with like-minded researchers but also with transdisciplinary researchers e.g. in ecology, policy, epidemiology and climatology, in a concerted effort to fight livestock diseases from all perspectives. This approach would also ensure that useful interventions are put in place for the effective management of livestock diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa. She also plans to engage with extension officers, to communicate findings and educate the smaller holder farmers and women, empowering them with knowledge on how to control and other livestock diseases.
Advise to other young scientists
From this award and also her experiences, her advise to other young researchers is that ‘resilience and persistence are priceless virtues in achievement of a goal. Add discipline onto that, and you have the recipe for breakthrough and success!’
Indeed if her achievements are anything to go by, this 31 year old who is a mother of 2, is definitely holding on to a great recipe!