Collaboration as Avenue to Research Success in Resource-Limited Settings: The Story of the Dogged Determination of a Young Nigerian Scientist

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. – Helen Keller


University of Jos medical microbiologist Emmanuel Nnaemeka Nnadi carries out research on the pathogenesis and ecology of tropical fungi and their pharmaceutical applications. His most recent research describing the isolation of a new specie of yeast was published in 2012 in the journal, Medical Mycology. His story however, has not always been that of success. I was recently in contact with Emmanuel Nnadi, who gave me an insight into his  research and life experiences.

Following two unsuccessful attempts at getting into medical school, Emmanuel Nnadi proceeded to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Nigeria, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in applied microbiology. His interest in research got ignited during an industrial training stint at the National Veterinary Research Institute, in Vom, Plateau State, following which he joined the Department of Medical Microbiology at the University of Jos.

It felt like an impossible task. I had no funds or access to funds and no sponsor,”  Emmanuel wrote, about his initial research efforts to study mutations in candida fungal species. He had resorted to self-sponsorship, whereby he expended personal funds to advance the early stages of his research endeavors. He remained steadfast enough to overcome discouraging attitudes from colleagues who repeatedly told him that his work “could not be done in Nigeria”.

In 2009, believing that there must be some way for researchers across the world to collaborate and help each other, he stumbled on ResearchGate after a web search. Through the online network for scientists, he contacted researchers who were interested in collaborating on research in African fungal species. A couple of people got back to him. One of them was Orazio Romeo, a pathogen researcher based in Italy.

Their successful collaboration is a story of classic mutualism. Orazio Romeo was interested in Emmanuel’s line of research but did not have funds to travel to Africa to collect microbiological samples and data. On the other hand, Emmanuel had tonnes of samples but lacked the wherewithal to perform molecular analyses and other sophisticated analytic tests.

We for the first time sequenced the erg11 gene for candida in Nigeria, identified Candida africana-first reported in Nigeria, and also genotyped our isolates, Emmanuel wrote. Together with Orazio Romeo, Emmanuel has published a number of research articles. Following the exposure from the publication of his works, he received numerous other research invitations, and is currently working with other researchers from within and outside Nigeria.

Scientific collaboration is not uncommon. Most other successful collaborative researchers have benefited from high-level, structured and well-funded collaborative efforts involving universities, industry, or large community-based partnerships. For the lone researcher like Emmanuel Nnadi, individual networking offers some hope. ResearchGate is a social networking site for scientists and researchers to share papers and find collaborators.

On being a researcher based in Nigeria, Emmanuel had this to say:

“Research in Nigeria is really frustrating. The government is not supportive of research. There is no funding and there are no laboratory equipment to work with.  The system is really frustrating. People seem to get involved in research, not to solve human problems but to get promoted. This seriously affects the quality of work in Nigeria.”

On his future plans:

“I am going in for my PhD, I am looking out for funding. I am focused on improving the quality of research and management of mycotic infections in Nigeria. Hence I hope to build a functional research team that will look into the common fungi affecting Nigerians and develop drugs, optimize treatment and drug monitoring.”

Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates was recently reported to be leading a $35 million investment in ResearchGate. Emmanuel Nnadi’s successful collaboration was highlighted in this article on Bill Gates’ planned investment.