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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Andrew Cole, on Medical Research at CREATES

Latest advances and high quality medical care the world enjoys today is largely the toil of research teams and years of tireless efforts by medical professionals and researchers, who investigate causes and potential treatments for disease. Understanding disease is complex and it increasingly calls for a multi-disciplinary approach towards solving medical challenges. There remains a lot to be done to reduce the impact of complex health problems; medical researchers are not resting as they seek to invent medical discoveries to improve the quality of life of the human person.


In a bid to improve biomedical research Strathmore University is a partner and host of a consortium with other institutions in the Centre for Research and Therapeutic Sciences (CREATES). The research conducted at CREATES is achieved through team work by researchers who work to achieve the best in all they undertake.


Meet Dr. Cole from CREATES

Dr. Andrew Omandi Cole, a passionate researcher, with a background in medicine joined the CREATES in 2013 and has since been involved in writing research proposals and conducting research projects. Currently, he is involved in an extensive cross-sectional survey for people living with hypertension. The study seeks to engage a sample of 1000 patients who suffer from hypertension, half of this study group will be drawn from patients who receive treatment in public medical facilities, and the other half from private medical facilities. The researcher revealed that there are at least 12 different classes of medications for the management of hypertension, some more expensive than others, hence the reason this study engages the two different categories.


With his interest in studying DNA and genes, Dr. Cole explains that the human body reacts to drugs taken for any condition. Reactions of each individual are dependent on many factors and lifestyle can be part and parcel of these reactions.  ‘A researcher draws blood and looks into the genes to see the type of reaction and also find out if there is any co-relation between the behaviour of the genes, the drug taken and the condition of hypertension,’ he said. This study seeks to determine the epidemiology of a hypertensive person. The research is underway with expectations of finding possible solutions for the now prevalent hypertension in the country.


From his background in medicine, Dr. Cole knows only too well the many research gaps in Kenya that need to be bridged for breakthrough findings in medicine. He reckons that increasingly, there are many available opportunities for mathematicians and IT experts in the field of medical research. From his perspective, a combined expertise is needed in research; for example a researcher could collect blood from volunteers, extract and examine DNA/RNA. The cause and effect relationship based on huge amount of genetic data would have to be analysed by a combination of experts ranging from medicine, informatics, and mathematics to mention a few. 


Indeed there is the gap that mathematicians can apply mathematical modelling to mimic the disease and study any emerging trends in the observations under study. Similarly IT experts with prowess in programming computers could use programmes to carry out highly analytical studies by applying mathematical formulae in order to analyse the results from the given samples. ‘They give helpful information in vaccine development and monitoring of disease, and has been very useful in the development of vaccines’, Dr. Cole explains.


It is increasingly true that research is now taking multidisciplinary approach. He wisely concludes that medical innovation is no longer the preserve of medical scientists while acknowledging that research from the traditional academic point of view has changed.


Malaria study

Dr. Cole luckily draws from a vast and rich experience of two different continents from his mixed heritage.  He has previously been involved in Control Human Malaria Infection (CHMI), an exceptional research program under KEMRI (Kenya Medical Research Institute).  The CHMI has been investigating and testing a malaria vaccine; the program involved 28 volunteers who were injected with malaria causing bacteria from the laboratory. Malaria being one of the prevalent killers, vaccine trials for it, have been carried out by many teams both on the continent and beyond.


In this particular program, Dr. Cole explained that all the volunteers got infected with malaria and were safely treated. The testing allowed the researchers to establish various aspects; when and how human beings are exposed to malaria, how long malaria takes to incubate in the human body, the duration it takes for malaria symptoms to emerge all the while carrying out an in-depth study of the genes structure of volunteers to assess any correlations therein. It is a fascinating study that is still on-going.


His background

Dr. Cole undertook his undergraduate studies in Zoology at the University of Washington US at a time when there was a programme to give opportunities to minorities in the area of sciences.


Before joining medical school, he worked at the Carol Sibley lab, which was a genetics lab under Prof Carol Sibley. In the course of his duties at the laboratory, an opportunity opened up for him to study genetics and DNA; he got hooked to this, he admits.


In his own words, ‘The experience of taking human cells, burst them open, extract DNA from the cells, purify the DNA, and sequence it until one identifies where each gene falls and then clone the DNA into yeast, which is a similar cell to a human cell… is simply fascinating’. Dr. Omandi lights up as he describes this process.

While studying in the US he came to Kenya to carry out research and while here met Dr. Bernhard Ogutu (KEMRI), and this served as an opportune opening for his involvement in the malaria trials (CHMI) that Dr. Ogutu was involved in. Whereas the US would provide a richer and more technologically advanced research opportunity for him, Dr. Cole reckons that Africa and Kenya specifically provides broader and more diverse research opportunities for him to make an impact in the research world.


While not carrying out research at CREATES, or seeing patients at the University Medical Centre, Dr Cole runs a small medical clinic with his wife who is also a medical doctor in the suburbs of the city.


He will soon undertake a Master’s degree and PhD studies in Mathematical Sciences. He is married and father of one.