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UM Researchers Britt Drögemöller and Galen Wright

Britt Drögemöller and Galen Wright at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience in South Africa in 2019. (Photo: David Twesigomwe)

Two new Canada Research Chairs awarded prestigious Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowships

March 16, 2021 — 

UM Canada Research Chairs Dr. Galen Wright and Dr. Britt Drögemöller, faculty members in the Max Rady College of Medicine, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, were recently awarded a pair of one-year fellowships that will allow them to collaborate on neurogenomics and precision medicine with Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

The Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship program, founded in 2013, is designed to develop long-term collaborations between universities in Africa and North America. The project is one of 56 through which the program will pair African-born scholars in North America with institution in Africa to collaborate on research, graduate training and mentoring activities in the coming months.

The fellowships normally cover travel costs for the researchers to visit the host university, but with worldwide travel restriction in place due to COVID-19, visits will be done virtually for Wright and Drögemöller, who first met while pursuing their PhDs at Stellenbosch University.

Wright and Drögemöller moved to Canada in 2014 for post-doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia and came to the University of Manitoba in 2019. Both hold Canada Research Chair (CRC) positions, Wright in neurogenomics and Drögemöller in pharmacogenomics and precision medicine.

Both are human geneticists trained in genomics, so there is commonality in their work even though they work independently from one another.

“Galen’s work looks at precision medicine with regards to neurological conditions, as well as fundamental work on DNA repair in the brain, while mine is focused on trying to develop safer treatments for vulnerable and underserved populations,” said Drögemöller, assistant professor in biochemistry and medical genetics; research scientist at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba; and adjunct scientist, Research Institute in Oncology and Hematology.

The pair plan to host a workshop for students at Stellenbosch’s new neuroscience degree program as part of their fellowships. They will also be establishing mutually beneficial collaborations aimed at improving the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disease in globally representative populations.

“The host applicant, professor Soraya Bardien, does a lot of neurological research and genomics in African populations, with a focus on Parkinson’s disease especially,” said Wright, assistant professor in pharmacology and therapeutics, and investigator in the Neuroscience Research Program at the Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine.

“There are some new clinical geneticists there looking to expand their capabilities to diagnose rare diseases.”

The Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, now in its fourth year, is designed to reverse Africa’s brain drain, strengthen capacity at the host institutions, and develop long-term, mutually-beneficial collaborations between universities in Africa and the United States and Canada. It is funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York and managed by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in collaboration with United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa) in Nairobi, Kenya, which coordinates the activities of the Advisory Council. A total of 527 African Diaspora Fellowships have now been awarded for scholars to travel to Africa since the program’s inception.

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