Maikel Izuierdo Rivero
WCAIR Trainee Maikel Izuierdo Rivero from Cuba

Maikel Izquierdo Rivero

I am a researcher at the Centre for Protein Studies, Faculty of Biology in the University of Havana, Cuba.  I graduated with Licentiate in Biology in July 2007, and went on to complete an MSc in Plant Biology, specialising in Biotechnology in 2012.  I am in the middle of completing a PhD in Biological Science, specialising in Biochemistry.

I came to WCAIR to complete work as part of my PhD.  The University of Dundee is a place where high human quality and teamwork prevail, and was a wonderful experience.  I had the opportunity to see how the academy and industry work together.  I learned many new things such as crystallography of proteins, high-throughput screening (HTS) and mass spectrometry.  These are all techniques that are not available in my country.

John Anyam
WCAIR Trainee John Anyam from Nigeria

John Anyam

I am John Vershima Anyam from Benue State, Nigeria. I am married to Jecinta with two beautiful daughters: Hiraseen and Monahanafam.  I teach organic chemistry at the Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi, Nigeria. My educational background includes a first degree (BSc Chemistry) from the University of Maiduguri, a Masters and PhD in Organic Chemistry from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. Back home, in Nigeria, my regular work majorly involves teaching chemistry and as some of the classes can be large (thousands) there is seldom little wiggle room for research.

I wanted to come to WCAIR because it is one of the leading centres of drug discovery and innovation in the world. My home is bedevilled by ethnic conflict and disease (my state has the highest number of HIV positive people in Nigeria); I have lost many relations to this scourge. Antibiotics are failing and there is a lot of desperation; mental ill-health is on the rise again around my country. I wanted to come and study everything I could about the drug discovery process, acquire key skills in organic chemistry to improve on my teaching methods, study an effective and progressive environment so I could improve on what I do back home.

I have been here two months and a couple of days; my head is exploding with not just chemistry but biology, art, social order, humility and discipline.

I have acquired new skills in modern methods of chromatographic separation, nuclear magnetic resonance, electronic logging of laboratory procedures, attended a conference where cutting edge principles of artificial intelligence as applied to drug discovery were discussed in depth. I have met people from different nationalities ranging from China, Russia, India, the Middle East, Africa, Brazil and Europe to name a few. These people contribute to the beautiful picture that is the School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee. Everybody is very approachable and humble in a manner that demystifies greatness in a profoundly; you never know who you are going to meet, who will introduce himself as just “Mike”. Coming from a place that is struggling to work I was really interested in looking at how efficient human populations function. I have learnt that honesty and discipline (being able to stop for a street light, being truthful, being modest, putting trash in the right “bin”, when no one is around) matter if a laboratory, a University, a country were to be efficient and progressive.

I look forward to the coming months with bated breath to learn and unlearn; to go home and practice what I have acquired here.

Image shows Rafael visiting Stonehenge
WCAIR Trainee Rafael Alves Ferreira from Brazil

Rafael Alves Ferreira

I am currently a PhD student in the Institute of Chemistry at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

During the development of my PhD project, I learned about the WCAIR because of the expertise in drug discovery built in the division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery at the University of Dundee.  The diseases that are the subject of my PhD project are also studied in WCAIR, so I decided to apply to come and learn from experts in the area.

I arrived in Dundee for my training programme in May 2018 and I have had the opportunity to learn different aspects of medicinal chemistry, including Good Laboratory Practice, working with several high tech equipment in the laboratories, theoretical medicinal chemistry sessions.  I also have had the opportunity to perform and/or watch some of the assays done for the projects I am involved in and receive training in computational chemistry.

Juliana Pacheco by the edge of the River Tay. The Tay Rail bridge is in the background
WCAIR Trainee Juliana da Silva Pacheco

Juliana da Silva Pacheco

I am from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I am pharmacist at the basis and I did master in sciences and biotechnology. When I went to Dundee I was in my last year of PhD in Cellular and Molecular biology at Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), an institute of the ministry of heath for science and technology in my country. I wanted to have an experience abroad to improve myself and WCAIR trainee program allowed me to have the first greatest experience of my life pursuing a career as a scientist. I can summarize everything I have lived in three words which have transformed my vision immensely: knowledge, people and culture. I was in an amazing foreign nation learning new things about my subject of study and enjoying cultural differences of people from all over the word while gaining an invaluable career experience. At the end of the trainee program I was able to take all this “luggage” back home as a new mentality and acquired knowledge to my institution in Brazil. I am really grateful for this opportunity and all the others that came out of taking this chance.

Jorge Gonzalez Bacerio
WCAIR Trainee Jorge Gonzalez Bacerio from Cuba

PhD Jorge González Bacerio

I am from the Department of Biochemistry – Centre for Protein Studies, Faculty of Biology, University of Havana, Cuba. I am at the beginning of my independent scientific career. I reach the PhD degree in 2016. At present, I am the head of my own research group, dedicated to identify inhibitors of the neutral metallo-aminopeptidases involved in different human infectious diseases, such as malaria and Chagas disease. I wanted to travel to Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research, School of Life Science, University of Dundee, because I don’t have in my University the required infrastructure for parasite cultures. I learned there the hard procedure to standardize a fluorogenic kinetic assay for inhibitor identification.

Ngozi Igoli in the Chemistry labs at WCAIR
WCAIR Trainee Ngozi Igoli from Nigeria

Ngozi Igoli

I’m Ngozi from Benue State University Makurdi in Nigeria.

I am a chemistry lecturer and I have been interested in plants used in folk medicines since I undertook a PhD project on a local Nigerian spice used medicinally to treat malaria amongst other ailments. I isolated some of the components of the plant but I did not have the chance to test whether these constituents or compounds like them can be effective medicines. When I became exposed to the Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research which focused on Neglected Tropical Diseases, I regarded It as a great opportunity to be trained in the drug discovery process so that I can possibly make a contribution to  the search for new medicines to treat diseases like malaria.

As a medicinal chemistry trainee, I am learning how to make compounds which will have the properties required for an effective medicine. I find it interesting to be working in a real-life project to find a medicine that would be marketed as a cure for schistosomiasis under the guidance of my dedicated trainer. The current project is also preparing me to start working on making medicines from the natural compounds I isolated from my medicinal plant.

Ben Harley
WCAIR Trainee Ben Harley from Ghana

Benjamin Harley

I am Benjamin Kingsley Harley, a recent PhD graduate from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana looking forward to a career in Academia and Research at the University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ho also in Ghana. My area of expertise is natural product chemistry.

Over the years, natural products chemists and pharmacognocists in Ghana have identified and isolated bioactive compounds from natural sources including plants and microbes that are active against some diseases that affect its citizens but have not been able to develop these chemical entities into drug candidates due to lack of expertise in drug discovery researches. My goal in coming to WCAIR is obtain an overview of drug discovery process, acquire requisite knowledge and skills that can be translated to our natural product research to initiate drug development campaigns that can drive these chemical entities through the drug discovery process.

Here in WCAIR, I am embedded in one of their drug discovery campaigns, focusing on tuberculosis, as a member of the medicinal chemistry team. With the help of the other chemists, I have been able to synthesize my first few small molecules using various synthetic routes and I am very excited about that. I look forward to learning more medicinal chemistry with hopes of applying them to natural products.

Daiane Dias Ferriera
WCAIR Trainee Diane Dias Ferriera from Brazil

Daiane Dias Ferriera

I am graduated in Biological Sciences from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo, Brazil (2009). I am also a Master of Science degree from the Post-Graduation Program of the Health Surveillance Secretariat of the State of São Paulo (CCD-SP), where I worked with the drug repositioning approach for experimental Chagas disease (2014). I am currently a doctoral student in the Department of Parasitology of the Adolfo Lutz Institute in São Paulo, working in the area of ​​drug discovery for neglected diseases. During my Ph.D., I was a member of the Wellcome Center for Anti-Infective Research (WCAIR) at Dundee University from January to April (2018). I chose the University of Dundee because the Drug Discovery Unit is a center specializing in pharmacokinetic / pharmacodynamic (PK / PD) studies of new compounds. During this time at the Drug Discovery Unit, I took lessons from Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics of Medicines (DMPK) and Medicinal Chemistry. This experience was very important to improve my work and my PhD thesis.

Luma Gudoy Magalhaes

I have a bachelor’s degree in physical and biomolecular sciences a master’s degree in science and, currently, I am a PhD candidate. I came from Brazil, where I have been developing my work at the Sao Carlos Institute of Physics – University of Sao Paulo. The institute is composed of several research groups in different areas of Physics and Interdisciplinary branches. I work in the biomolecular area with a protein, tubulin, that is the molecular target of my PhD project. The aim is to develop small molecules that interfere in the microtubule (tubulin polymers) polymerization process, which is a validated target for cancer treatment. The work I was developing in Brazil involved techniques such as molecular modelling, protein production, biochemical assays, cellular assays, flow cytometry, immunofluorescence, etc, and allowed to profile in vitro the biological activities and mode of action of a series of synthetic compounds. Due to my experience with cellular in vitro models I also got involved in a project called Lead Optimization Latin America (LOLA), a joint initiative that involves UNICAMP, our lab at USP and DNDi. It is an early stage R&D project that intend to develop new candidates for the treatment of leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. The project is driven by the multiparametric optimization of lead compounds, which involves drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK) studies. That is an area that lack trained human resources in Brazil and, in this context, I came to Dundee as a WCAIR trainee mainly, but not only, to learn theoretical and practical aspects involved in DMPK: how to generate, interpret and use these data to make decisions in a drug discovery pipeline.

During the first 2 months I got involved in courses and tutorials either about drug discovery as a whole or DMPK. I also had a short journey through the chemistry lab, learning about how to perform the quality control of compounds (LCMS, RMN – data generation and interpretation) and purification techniques to make the samples fill the criteria required for in vitro screening. During the following 5 months I could learn how to set-up, validate, perform, treat and interpret data from more than 10 in vitro DMPK assays. To be trained, I did all the assays by myself after shadowing a specialist in each of them. I also shadowed the in vivo PK samples generation, performed the bioanalysis by myself and learned how to generate the PK parameters. After my period in the DMPK, I spent 4 months with the biochemistry team to improve my biology skills and learn how to work in a high throughput screening environment. I was given the responsibility to develop an enzymatic assay to a T. cruzi protein that should be robust, miniaturized, automated, cost-effective and as simple as possible. When the optimal conditions that meet the previous requirements were stablished, I have been through an oral peer review of the assay, after which I wrote and had registered in their system a standard operation procedure (SOP) document. Finally, I could perform a screening of a series of compounds followed by a report generation. Beyond the science, this process taught me how to work, process and register data and reports in an “industry” environment.

As can be seen, my time as a WCAIR trainee was extraordinarily productive, which was possible due to the amazing environment they have there. Everybody, involved directly or not in the training program, was extremely friendly and supportive. Apart from the main tasks that I was engaged, I took part in several side tasks that also allowed me to learn a lot! I had a short induction in the computational-aided drug design tools, worked side-by-side with their protein production team, participated of several team meetings, communicated my work orally and even had experience with some public engagement events. I also made friends for life here and had a great time in Scotland. It was certainly an experience that worth every second.