Science education on the continent, unfortunately is lacking in many ways. I do not just want to use my research to find new drugs or find new therapies, I want to use it as a space to increase the interest in the sciences and to build capacity for scientific research on the African continent.”
Oyindamola Adefisayo ’08 is a Nigerian researcher, currently in her sixth year of a PhD in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis at The Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. Her research is centred on finding cost-effective and time-reducing solutions to the treatment of multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis.
Oyindamola grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, demonstrating incredible potential as a student, an athlete and a leader. An avid runner on the school’s track team and consistently performing at the top of her class, she was selected as Head Girl in her final year of high school at the same time that the founders of African Leadership Academy were travelling around the continent recruiting prospective students for the inaugural class. Her Principal encouraged her to submit an application, which she did. It was when she arrived at ALA in September 2008 that she realized the similarities and vast differences between her upbringing in Nigeria and those of her peers across the continent.
Discovering Scientific Research at ALA
Oyindamola recalls the very strong influence that ALA’s science faculty and her peers had on her in her early days as a researcher. Being surrounded by exceptional scientists as teachers and inquisitive students as peers, she was challenged to rethink her relationship with the sciences in a way that deeply fostered in her a passion for Biology. As a student at ALA, she was introduced to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, thinking through practical approaches to end these diseases with Wilfred Griekspoor, one of the Fund’s founders, in her Year One Biology class. It was with this excitement that she proceeded to Clark University where she studied Biology as a major and French as a minor, partly influenced by her French-speaking ALA peers.
At Clark University, Oyindamola pursued research in a laboratory, focused on the study of the fly, Drosophila, which has been linked to many diseases in humans. Through ALA, she also secured prestigious research internships at the National Institute of Health, the primary agency responsible for biomedical and health-related research in the United States, and the Africa Health Research Institute (formerly known as K-RITH), a leading Tuberculosis and HIV research institute in Durban, South Africa. These experiences collectively inspired her to apply for a PhD at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences in New York.
Oyindamola is currently in her sixth (and final) year of the PhD program in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis, focused on the debilitating disease of Tuberculosis. Considering the high social and economic cost of the disease across the African continent, this is a pivotal area of focus. Over 25% of Tuberculosis deaths that occur in Africa are largely linked to its drug resistance. Oyindamola’s research could lead to the development of new and innovative therapies for this curable and preventable disease.
Outside of the lab and classroom, Oyindamola has found her passion in mentoring students interested in the sciences. Her love of mentoring started at Clark University where she was able to guide students through their research experiences on campus. At Weill Cornell, she has continued to support students, particularly those of African descent, as she sees these bonds as crucial inspirations for her work.
Vision for the Future
Oyindamola is deeply concerned about the dearth of research opportunities for current and aspiring scientists in Africa. From her vantage point, she sees several exceptional scientists having to leave the continent in search of research opportunities, and many are leaving the field of science altogether. She recognizes that there is not only a lack of capacity in terms of physical requirements to hold the necessary machines and reagents, but also a lack of highly skilled mentors in the field. Her desire is to directly impact students who are interested in pursuing sciences on the African continent, creating space to increase interest in the sciences and build capacity for scientific research on the continent.