Alash’le Abimiku, M.SC; PhD,
Executive Director, International Research Center of Excellence at the Institute of Human Virology-Nigeria (IRCE-IHVN)
Professor of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Institute of Human Virology, Baltimore
What are you and your institution currently working on regarding COVID-19?
The Institute of Human Virology Nigeria is engaged in three key activities relating to COVID-19 in Nigeria based on its expertise and infrastructure. First, the institute has been funded by the government of Nigeria to work collaboratively with the Nigeria Center for Disease Control to evaluate rapid diagnostic test kits for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antigens or antibodies to the virus, or both. Second, the institute is part of the WHO established Solidarity Vaccine group though its Clinical Trial Unit (CTU) which has a robust NIH funded biorepository with the capability and capacity to process, store and track biological samples including viable cells, in addition to areas for clinical study visits assessment and a pharmacy for the storage of drugs, vaccines, and medical devices. The CTU is linked to a number of hospitals and clinics in Nigeria with well characterized patient populations with whom IHVN have collaborated for treatment programs and research activities for over two decades. These hospitals/clinics have isolation wards for COVID-19 patients in addition to ART clinics for HIV patients. Third, IHVN supports IHV’s Epidemiology division in an ongoing national COVID-19 household seroprevalence cross-sectional survey with longitudinal, within-household follow-up, that will assess the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 and estimate the secondary attack rate within affected households.
In what education, awareness, and task-force COVID-19 programs are you involved?
As part of IRCE-IHVN’s support in providing awareness on COVID-19, I have been on numerous national television programs and provided context to a number of national journalists. I am also a member of the scientific advisory board of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) for deliberations on COVID research and the verification of claims of COVID cure. I also serve on the Africa CDC Africa Task Force for Coronavirus (AFCOR) in the COVID-19 laboratory technical working group.
As a postdoc, Dr. Abimiku played a pivotal role in establishing a long-term collaboration between Institutions in her home country, Nigeria, and investigators at the National Institutes of Health and at the Institute of Human Virology University of Maryland School of Medicine (IHV-UMB SOM) where she currently has an appointment as Professor of Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention. Being an effective lynch pin, she made it possible to create a portfolio of successful research grants in Nigeria that have form the basis of long-standing collaboration between Nigerian scientists and faculty at IHV-UMB SOM and have effectively trained young Nigerian scientists. As a scientist, she was first to demonstrate the HIV strain prevalent in Nigeria as subtype G in 1993. She was established the first reliable HIV research laboratory in central Nigeria. The research laboratory supports her grants focused on the role of subtypes in disease pathogenesis using mother to child model and effects of co-infections with TB on HIV pathogenesis. As the Director for Research and laboratory science, she established a laboratory network and infrastructure including a BSL-3 for TB diagnostics activity, a robust lab QA/QC component, a comprehensive laboratory training program with four associated training facilities, and a biorepository network under the IHVN PEPFAR program. These facilities have supported national efforts on achieving the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets, early infant diagnosis, and post market validations for PEPFAR HIV rapid test kits. As the Principal investigator for the pre and in-service laboratory training program under PEPFAR, she effectively leverage those trainings and that of the NIH Fogarty training program to build research capability in Laboratory science by updating the in-service curricula used in 20 Universities and 47 Colleges of Health Technology offering degree and certificate for medical laboratory science program in Nigeria; and training over 2000 in-service laboratory personnel to support HIV and TB diagnosis and monitoring for the nation. As executive director of the IRCE-IHVN, she now focuses on developing young Nigerian scientists into early career investigators that will continue to address Nigeria’s health challenges through well informed research findings backed up with data and appropriate health policies.
Overview of the IHV Division of Epidemiology & Prevention
The Division of Epidemiology and Prevention aims to support the identification, reduction and eradication efforts for HIV/AIDS, other infectious diseases, and cancer in populations in Baltimore and around the world by deploying innovative research studies. In our key (men who have sex with men [MSM], sex workers, people who infect drugs, transgender persons) and vulnerable (young women and adolescents) population research efforts, we use molecular epidemiology, epidemic models, surveys and mapping for high impact studies in optimizing prevention of mother to child transmission, health service deliveries, Treatment as Prevention (TasP), and Preexposure Prophylaxis (PreP).
Our genomic research in cancer and viral diseases study the interaction between vaginal microbiome, host genetics and human papillomavirus (HPV) in women, anal microbiome and anal cancer among MSM, the interplay between maternal-child microbiome and growth outcomes among HIV-exposed uninfected infants, and disease burden of type 2 diabetes. A significant funding portfolio also includes health systems strengthening through the use of data-driven metrics and continuous quality improvements. Recognizing that international research must be built upon successful local programs, we work in collaboration with HIV, malaria and TB implementation programs in lower middle-income countries and train young scientists in epidemiology and implementation and dissemination science research to build on-ground research capacity to help bring local solutions to their HIV/AIDS epidemic.