Joseph Ndung'u becomes a Corresponding fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Geneva, Switzerland – 20 March 2013 – Corresponding Fellows of the RSE are persons who have attained high international standing in a subject within the disciplinary domains of the Society, and who are not normally resident in the UK. Candidates for Fellowship are nominated by existing Fellows. Each candidature undergoes a rigorous five-stage annual selection process which culminates in a ballot of the whole Fellowship. The ballot result is announced in March of each year. Prof. Ndung’u joins 63 other Corresponding Fellows who have been elected since the Society was established in 1783.

Prof. Ndung’u did his undergraduate training at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, where in 1985 he graduated with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. In 1990, he got a PhD in the immunopathology of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT or sleeping sickness) at the University of Glasgow’s Veterinary School in Scotland. He became a Visiting Professor of the University in 2001 and has held a similar position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA. Prof. Ndung’u started his professional career in 1985 as an assistant research officer at the Kenya Trypanosomiasis Research Institute (KETRI) near Nairobi. In 1992 he became the deputy director in charge of research and was appointed Director of the institute in 1995. After 9 years in this position, he was transferred to the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI) as a Chief Research Officer, and in 2006, he moved to FIND to establish the HAT diagnostics programme. The programme has since been expanded to include other neglected diseases such as Leishmaniasis and Chagas disease.

It was during his PhD training at Glasgow University and as director of KETRI that Prof. Ndung’u established extensive linkages and collaborations with professionals and universities all over the United Kingdom, especially Scotland. A range of collaborative research projects on both human and animal trypanosomiasis enabled a large number of KETRI scientists to train for Masters and PhD degrees in the UK, while scientists from the UK carried out research on trypanosomiasis in the field in Kenya. These associations continued after he joined FIND, and have enabled him to make great strides in the development of diagnostics for HAT.

One of the tests whose development Prof. Ndung’u has overseen while at FIND is a simple and rapid instrument-free test for screening populations that was recently launched in the DRC and is undergoing extensive evaluation in the field. Roll out of the test in remote rural areas where sleeping sickness occurs is planned for later in 2013, and is bound to have a major impact on control of the disease. Another test is a highly sensitive and specific molecular method based on loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) of parasite DNA that can be deployed in rural African laboratories. While the reagents for performing LAMP are stored at ambient temperature, and the instruments used can be operated using solar energy, the operators do not require any previous training in molecular techniques. In December 2012, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) approved the introduction and routine use of an LED fluorescence microscope that uses acridine orange as a stain, and which can also be operated using solar power. Meanwhile, Prof. Ndung’u and a large consortium of partners in Europe and Africa have identified biomarkers in the spinal fluid of HAT patients that are being used to develop a test for accurate identification of patients with brain disease, and to monitor treatment. Use of this test will significantly reduce the number of lumbar punctures that have to be performed on a treated patient to confirm cure.

The election of Prof. Ndung’u as CorrFRSE adds to a series of recognitions he has received during his career, the most recent being a gold medal by the African Union in 2009 for his contribution to research, control and eradication on tsetse and trypanosomiasis.

About the Royal Society of Edinburgh
The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) was established in 1783 under a Charter granted by George III for the “Advancement of Learning and Useful Knowledge” in Scotland. It is an independent, non-party-political body and is recognized as Scotland’s national academy of science and letters by its sister academies in the United Kingdom. The men and women of the Society’s Fellowship are peer-elected from the full spectrum of disciplines, giving the Society a multidisciplinary perspective that makes it unique amongst these academies. In 2012, the Society had around 1540 Fellows, including 63 Honorary Fellows (who are members of the Royal House or persons eminently distinguished in any subject within the disciplinary domains of the Society) and 63 Corresponding Fellows (persons who have attained high international standing in any subject within their disciplinary domains, and who are not normally resident in the UK).

About FIND
Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) is a not-for-profit international organization dedicated to supporting the development of affordable, easy-to-use, cutting edge diagnostic tests that save lives in the poorest areas of the world. From proof of concept to putting new tests into practice, the organization works with multiple and diverse groups, including academia, industry, donors, partners in the field, Ministries of Health and the World Health Organization. In addition to HAT, FIND also has strong programmes in TB, malaria, leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. FIND is ISO certified and financed by both the private and public sectors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Governments of Germany and of the Netherlands, European Union, UNITAID, UK Department for International Development (DFID), National Institutes of Health (USA), UBS Optimus Foundation, among others.