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Posted: 5 Sep 2011
Career Pathways: Alash'le G. Abimiku

Tell us about your current position

I am an Associate Professor at the Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Division of Epidemiology and Prevention.  I am also the Director, Office of Laboratory Diagnostics and Research, Institute of Human Virology in Nigeria.

What is your background/training in?

I am a medical Microbiologist by profession, specializing in Virology and Immunology.  I started my education in my home country, Nigeria, where I obtained a Bachelors in Microbiology at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.  I subsequently trained at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where I obtained a Masters in Immunology followed by a Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology.  I joined Dr. Robert Gallo (the co-discoverer of HIV) at the Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology at the National Institutes of Health as a postdoctoral fellow in 1991 to develop my skills as a retrovirologist, to characterize the HIV epidemic in Nigeria and participate in developing an effective vaccine that will be relevant to the epidemic in Nigeria.

What other positions have you held and how have they influenced your career?

1991 - 2003: Co-Director (R. Gallo Director), International Center for Scientific Culture - World Laboratory (ICSC-WL) AIDS Research Center for W. Africa, Jos, Nigeria.  I introduced retrovirology technology in this center that led to screening of blood prior to transfusion and the first isolation and characterization of HIV isolates circulating in Nigeria.

2002 - Present: Nigeria Academic Country Director for the IHV-UMD NIH Fogarty funded AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP) grant.  I provide mentorship for Nigeria research trainees in doctoral and post doctoral training.

2003 - Present: Scientific Director, Plateau State Human Virology Research Center,  (PLASVIREC) Jos Nigeria.  Plateau State Government built a two-story state of the art research facility academically affiliated with University of Jos, to support our collaborations.

2004 - Present: Co-PI and Senior Technical Advisor, Institute of Human Virology University of Maryland PEPFAR Labs.  I guide laboratory related activities and participate in providing technical assistance to the  government of Nigeria through our PEPFAR program.

2010 - Present: Member, African AIDS Vaccine Partnership (AAVP) International Board.  This program is designed to facilitate the development and conduct of HIV vaccine clinical trials in Africa

2010 - Present: Member, Board of Directors, African Society for Labortory Science (ASLM). 

Through these positions, I have the great opportunity of empowering colleagues from my home country and the African continent to contribute to the solution of HIV and AIDS.  I learned diplomacy by working with governments and in forming international partnerships.

Who or what had the greatest impact on your career?

First, my father, and second the opportunity of doing my postdoctoral training and having a faculty position in the United States of America.

 1) My father because he was a very wise policeman that instilled discipline in a large family of 8 girls and 2 boys.  At a time that it was unthinkable to send girls to school, not only did he send his girls to school (and risk being thrown out of the village and had to move to the city with nothing), he also told us in clear terms that we had to be at the top of the class so that we could go to the best schools on scholarships as he had no money to send us to the best schools, but he would do his part and help us with homework. That was how I got to go to one of the best Universities in Nigeria and to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine - all on scholarship!  Quite a few of my sisters did the same too.

 2) Coming to the United States opened doors and provided me with the opportunity to learn from the best minds in the world and be involved in amazing collaborative work that would result in collaboration between my home country and the USA at the highest scientific and public health level.  Science magazine captured the  lynchpin role of myself and three other foreign scientists as successfully having “a foot in each country” (Science 2004; 304:1288).

What advice would you like to share with our readers who may be early in their careers?

Be proud of who you are and have a curious and an open mind that allows you to bring your own uniqueness to the table.  It always pays to be a team player but don’t forget your uniqueness and dreams in the process.  Scientists from the developing world have a lot to contribute to research so make sure that you take your place in the global effort as an equal partner who is honest, dependable, accountable and respected.

 

Dr. Alash'le Abimiku is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Division of Epidemiology and Prevention and the Director, Office of Laboratory Diagnostics and Research, Institute of Human Virology in Nigeria.

Career Pathways is a series of stories highlighting career trajectories of highly respected individuals working in HIV vaccine research and development that gives a glimpse into the job possibilities, decision-making processes, and situations that got these individuals where they are today.