Gambian-born US scientist Fanta Barrow, has been awarded the early career investigator award in basic science by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases for her outstanding contribution to the world’s understanding of the pathophysiology of liver disease.
Fanta Barrow, a PhD candidate in the department of Integrative Biology and Physiology at the University of Minnesota, United States Scientific Research, focuses on the complications of obesity, how immune protectors of our body worsen disease and are still used to “fixed” and treat ailments that affect us.
Barrow, who is passionate about contributing to the betterment of lives through scientific research, is believed to be the first Gambian to receive the prestigious award.
The Early Career Investigator Award in Basic Science is given by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.
It recognizes and celebrates scientists who make significant contributions to the understanding of the pathophysiology of liver diseases at an early stage in their career.
Reacting to her award in an interview with Alkamba Times from Minnesota, the young scientist said:
“Obesity can lead to many complications including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a disease where there is excess accumulation of fat in the liver which ultimately leads to liver failure. I am investigating the factors that progress the disease from simple fat accumulation to liver failure. I have found that the specific cells of the immune system, instead of helping, worsen disease outcome. These cells, known as B cells can be considered the weapons of the body that engage foreign particles and fire attacks to get rid of them. In fatty liver, however, these weapons are getting engaged, firing but also hitting their own troops and causing liver damage. How these B cells promote liver injury is not known. My research aims to identify the mechanisms through which B cells promote liver failure. Knowing these mechanisms is key for the discovery of drugs that will treat this disease, which has yet to have a cure. Wouldn’t you want to live in a world where overindulging in ice-cream would not cause irreversible damage to your liver?”.
Asked how she feels about the award, Barrow said: “I feel honored. I feel proud. I feel gratified. But more than anything, I feel empowered knowing that the research I am doing has the potential to help develop therapies for a disease that affects 25% of the world’s population and yet has no cure.”
Further asked about her thoughts on the dire need for professional health care providers in the Gambia, the young scientist said giving back to her country has always been a long dream for her.
“Growing up, I think many Gambians would agree with me that our exposure to different career options was very limited. And the resources to pursue an education in fields that weren’t as common were almost nonexistent. If you wanted pursue to an uncommon major, you needed to travel outside of the country. That isn’t always an easy feat to achieve and some are never able to overcome the many challenges this can pose. Once I am done with my education and have accumulated enough experience”.
The young scientists hope to become a professor at the University of The Gambia to teach research-based courses in immunology and physiology.
She also wants to be a part of a research team that studies immunometabolic diseases in the Gambian population with the goal of making associations between disease outcomes, environment and lifestyle.
“This will not only contribute to the scientific field, but it can also give insights into lifestyle changes that could be tailored to treatment plans for these diseases.
I am a firm believer that access to a good education is one of the biggest strengths a country can have. There are many excellent young Gambians exceling in different fields and if we can give back to our country one way or another, I think we can soar higher.”