Understanding Epidemics: A Scientist’s Journey Through Disease Transmission Networks

Dr. Nicholas jpeg

I am Dr Nicholas Bbosa, honoured to take you on a journey through the world of molecular virology and disease transmission networks. As the project leader of the virus discovery project at the MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit and an Assistant Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), I spend my days deciphering the mysteries of infectious diseases and their transmission dynamics.

When I began my research journey, my focus was on understanding genetic diversity, evolution, and transmission of HIV in different population groups in Uganda. This allowed us to uncover critical insights about how the virus spread between high-risk fishing communities and the general population.

Contrary to the prevailing belief, we discovered that the fishing communities were not the sources of HIV infection but were actually net recipients. This revelation had significant implications for targeted interventions in controlling the epidemic. This research was the heart of my doctoral work, and we published our findings in reputable journals.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, I knew my skills could make a difference. I repurposed my expertise to support the national response by analyzing the genetic makeup of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We effectively guided interventions by identifying specific viral variants and understanding their patterns of spread. This pandemic also transformed me into a ‘virus hunter’ as I delved into metagenomics and metatranscriptomics, to uncover potential pandemic pathogens hidden in our environment.

Cracking the Code of Transmission Networks

Understanding how diseases spread is like solving a complex puzzle. I applied advanced techniques like Next Generation Sequencing, molecular phylogenetics, and infectious disease models to piece together the transmission networks. For-instance, my work with the HIV Molecular Epidemiology project helped us see how HIV moved within high-risk communities and the general population. These insights changed the way we approach interventions.

I also delved into the structure of transmission networks within fishing communities. This revealed that the network’s shape was influenced by how new connections were formed—a bit like how social networks evolve. This understanding was crucial for tailoring prevention strategies effectively.

One important lesson I have learned is that tackling epidemics requires teamwork. During the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists, data analysts, lab technologists, and many others collaborated to gather and analyze genomic data. Each team member’s skills were harnessed effectively, demonstrating the power of collective action.

Pathways to Success: Embracing Opportunities

My journey has been paved with opportunities for growth. Joining the MRC/UVRI & LSHTM Uganda Research Unit provided me with mentors and supervisors who nurtured my development as a scientist. Beyond hard work, seizing opportunities was essential. The unit regularly offers training programs, grants, and seminars that foster innovation and progress. As I embrace Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, I'm excited about the possibilities they hold for pathogen genomics.

As we navigate the complex pathways of disease transmission networks, remember that each discovery is a step towards better epidemic control. My journey reminds us that adaptable skills, effective teamwork, and seizing opportunities are vital in this quest. So, whether you’re a scientist, a curious mind, or anyone seeking inspiration, always remember: “who dares wins.”

Stay curious, stay safe, and keep exploring the exciting frontiers of science!

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