Lassa; Town, Disease & Research

Lassa; Town, Disease & Research

Even though 8 out of 10 people affected by Lassa Fever show no symptoms, it damages the liver, kidney, and spleen. When contracted, patients often suffer a fever, weakness, and general malaise. Food or materials contaminated by the feces and urine of the mastomys rat are generally believed to be the cause of human infections. There is no vaccine to prevent the disease and 15 % of most serious cases lead to death. That is why research on the disease is so important.

A first-class graduate from the American University of Nigeria(AUN), Daniel Kolawole is well aware of the urgency for research in this field. The Natural & Environmental Sciences Major has achieved a huge feat in his very young career. He published a paper on the phylogenetic and mutational analysis of Lassa virus in Nigeria. Daniel’s peer-reviewed article was published by The Journal JMIR Research Protocols (PubMed and Scopus Indexed) in collaboration with Prof Hayatu Raji and Professor Malachy Ifeanyi Okeke.

 Picture of Lassa fever virus structure.Photo credit

Daniel, guided by his professors realized that there was a great need to investigate this virus. The devastation of the virus had indeed struck close to home. The university is located in Nigeria’s northeast region. Lassa town is just about 4 hours drive away from the campus.

“ The inspiration for the Lassa Virus publication was basically my senior research project. I remember being confused for a couple of weeks, trying to figure out a topic to focus my research on. This was the case until I met Dr. Malachy. He informed me about a potential area of research, Lassa Virus infection biology, after further research of my own, I was able to come up with the topic I pursued.” Said, Daniel.

In his final year studying at the American University of Nigeria, he came to terms with one of the university’s core philosophies; development. From the first year of study, professors emphasize the importance of this ethos to students, the need to provide solutions to problems in their host community and Lassa Fever was one such case.

In 1969, a missionary nurse, Laura wine contracted what is believed to be the first internationally known case of Lassa Fever. (Some virologists dispute this claim, saying the nurse had a travel history through west Africa and could easily have contracted the virus from somewhere else.) By researching the virus, Daniel will not only be adding to the body of knowledge but will also be documenting changes in the strains of the virus. He is well aware that his alma-mater gave him an academic and geographical advantage which he has leveraged so well.

“I don't think this would have been possible without AUN. AUN provided a remarkable educational platform where I met people that have been highly influential for my academic growth, people such as Dr. Malachy, Dr. Raji among others. Said, Daniel.

He speaks fondly of his professors. No doubt, Associate Professor of Biology, Prof Malachy Ifeanyi Okeke shares this feeling of respect and fondness for his student also.

“Daniel is an outstanding scholar and it is no surprise that he recently graduated with a first-class honors degree from our department of Natural & Environmental Sciences, AUN. As his mentor, I am confident that Daniel will continue to epitomize the excellent quality of scholarship and teaching here at AUN.” Said Professor Okeke.

Investigating The Virus

It all begins with the genome. Genomes contain a comprehensive set of genetic instructions for an organism to grow and develop. Much like an instruction manual. For instance, a blueprint for a building is that building’s genome. If you have it, the building could be replicated to specification.

Daniel studied the changes in the genetic information contained in the genome of Lassa Fever. Through his research, Daniel became intrigued by the genetic mutations in the Lassa Virus. Daniel’s major objective was to map changes within the genomes of Lassa virus isolates from 2018 and 2019 using a reference sequence available at the National Center for Biotechnology Information as a benchmark. He then compared them to the genomes of viruses isolated during 1969-2017.

Daniel’s findings add to current knowledge of the evolutionary history of the Lassa virus in Nigeria. It also improves our understanding of the molecular factors contributing to the upsurge in Lassa fever cases in Nigeria from 2018 to date. He also attempts to explain the limited instances of potential human-to-human transmission of Lassa fever. With its documentation of mutations in Nigerian isolates from 1969 to 2019, this research provides an updated analysis of the Lassa virus evolution in the country.

AUN’s Natural & Environmental Sciences (NES) department has earned the university great acclaim. Students and Faculty alike can often be seen collecting data and samples in village communities, markets, and IDP camps. In an era of pandemics and other public health emergencies, NES graduates like Daniel Kolawole are in high demand. The American University of Nigeria is indeed proud to have nurtured such precocious talents.

Click the link below for Daniel’s full-length research

Reported by the Office of Communications