Update on UNIMAK Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory

The UNIMAK Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory (IDRL) was officially opened on the Yoni campus on the 22nd of January 2016 as a collaboration between the University of Makeni, Sierra Leone and the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. The project was facilitated by funding from the Wellcome Trust to enable rapid sequencing of Ebola virus genomes during the Ebola virus disease epidemic in Sierra Leone. Its aim is to contribute to building a resilient health infrastructure, build capacity of students and train local scientists in Sierra Leone. The lab’s work is to understand the patterns of various viruses in relation to sources, drug resistance, and protection.

Since then, the following activities have been happening:


Metabiota started their research program officially in May 2016. The research goal is to identify animals that may act as reservoirs or transmission hosts for Ebola virus to develop targeted prevention measures that reduce the risk of spill over from animals to people. Their field staff have been collecting samples from domestic animals in various districts in Sierra Leone. These samples are being stored in the fridges in the lab as they can’t carry out any testing yet as their equipment have not arrived. They’re hoping that these equipment will be in the lab by February next year and assessments are currently ongoing to ensure that there’s room for them and that the conditions meet their expectations. Recently they shipped to America a batch of samples for testing, even though they do not intend to do this again. Their team at Yoni consists of Lab technicians, field workers as well as office workers.

Storage of Samples

The London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are currently storing about 300 oral fluid samples in their original collection devices (from community controls) that have not been processed. These arrived in May and are being stored in one of the -20 degrees freezers and will be there for about one year.

Engagement Program

The Wellcome Trust has funded a program running from July 2016 to September 2017 aimed at developing a series of 5 practical sessions aimed at Senior Secondary School Students to increase their awareness of infectious diseases.

The engagement project is with EducAid and UNIMAK and has a team consisting of one full time person at UNIMAK and 2 part-time staff at EducAid including a number of volunteers selected from the public health students. The program is headed by Professor Ian Goodfellow.


In September, for a period of about 2weeks, Dr. Luke Meredith from the University of Cambridge did some work for The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine funded by Johnson and Johnson. The purpose of this study was to provide Ebola virus status on serum samples collected from participants enrolled in Stage 1 of the VAC52150EBL3001 Ebola vaccine trial. The study was to:

1. Perform Ebola virus detection on 132 serum samples, collected from the Stage 1 participants, utilising the ALTONA real-time PCR assay.

2. Report all results in the format agreed by both parties.

3. Submit all results in a timely fashion to Mr Brett Lowe & Brian Kohn (LSHTM) for verification and onward submission to the trial sponsor. (This should be no later than 3 weeks after the start of the contract date)

4. Once confirmation that results have been received, destroy all remaining serum samples using Makeni’s standard procedures for biological waste management and provide a report to Mr Brett Lowe & Brian Kohn (LSHTM) outlining that this has taken place.

Ebola Survivor Study – Headed by Dr. Nathalie MacDermott

Dr. Nathalie MacDermott is an infectious disease doctor from Imperial College London. She has worked in Sierra  Leone and Liberia as part of the Ebola response. From 16th of November 2016 she has funding from the Welcome Trust to undertake a large host genomics study on Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone. It’s a very exciting project and Nathalie has done an amazing job getting everyone on board. It’s an important question and it would be an amazing opportunity for UNIMAK to be involved. The study should take about six months.

The study is investigating genetic susceptibility to Ebola virus disease. Meaning to see if there is a genetic reason that some people survive Ebola and some people die. Also if there is a genetic reason why some people exposed to Ebola become infected and others with a similar exposure do not. The study has ethical approval from the Sierra Leone Ethics and Scientific Research Committee and also the Imperial College Research Ethics Committee.

The study has access to samples that were stored during the epidemic from patients who survived and died of Ebola. In agreement with the government of Sierra Leone, these samples are stored at a high risk laboratory in the UK. The field work will recruit people who were household contacts of patients with Ebola and also background community controls who were not knowingly exposed to Ebola. They will need to recruit 1000 household contacts and 1000 community controls. They will also be looking to recruit approximately 500 Ebola survivors who have ongoing medical problems.

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