From Nanjing to Norwich; my scientific journey in 10,000 miles

11th January 2022

“One day, I hope I can open a research centre in my country and help the students, scientists, and wider community.”

Manasik Gumah Adam Ali is a PhD student funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 Programme. She joined the Juge Group at the Quadram Institute in October 2021. In this blog, she shares how her passion for science and cancer immunotherapy has taken her around the world, from Khartoum and Nanjing to the fine city of Norwich.

My name is Manasik Gumah Adam Ali and I’m from Sudan in Northern Africa. My passion for science, however, has taken me across the globe.

I completed a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy from the University of Khartoum, graduating in 2017 with a First honour degree. After graduation, I joined the University as a Teacher Assistant in the Pharmaceutical Microbiology Department and part-time intern at their Institute of Endemic Disease. In 2018, I was thrilled to be awarded a full scholarship by the CSC Chinese Scholarship Council to pursue a master’s degree in Microbiological and Biochemical Pharmacy (Cancer Immunotherapy) at the China Pharmaceutical University in Nanjing, China.

In 2021 I graduated with a Distinction, and I’m now a GLYTUNES-Marie Curie PhD student based in Professor Nathalie Juge’s group at the Quadram Institute and the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.

My PhD Project

My project is part of the Glytunes Innovative Training Network (ITN). The Glytunes ITN is a multidisciplinary training network for the bioinspired development of glycomimetic tuning the Siglec-Sialoglycan axis.

Siglecs (sialic acid-binding immunoglobulin-like lectins) are a broad range of cell surface immunomodulatory receptors that selectively recognise sialylated glycans, acting as a negative regulator of immune system triggering tolerogenic or immunogenic responses. The past decade has witnessed an explosion of discoveries linking aberrant sialic acid–Siglec interactions to a broad spectrum of pathologies including infection, autoimmunity, and cancer. The Siglecs–sialoglycan axis is, therefore, an emerging attractive therapeutic target to prevent or affect the course of several diseases.

Fusobacterium nucleatum is a bacterium involved in the development of colorectal cancer (CRC) through innate immune cell modulation. Previous work in the Juge Lab revealed that cancer-associated F. nucleatum ssp. interacts with Siglecs expressed by immune cells [1].

Throughout my PhD project, I will be investigating the consequence of Siglecs- F. nucleatum interaction on the host immune system, the molecular determinants involved in the interaction and the use of glycomimetics to disrupt the interaction. Over the next four years, I’ll be using a range of molecular microbiology, cell biology, advanced bioimaging techniques, data mining and experimental approaches.

Studying Abroad for the First Time

Honestly? It’s one of my best life experiences so far. I spent three years at the China Pharmaceutical University in Nanjing and the environment was wonderful. The research facilities are fantastic, and the Professors were always on hand to help.

The experience also gave me the chance to engage with people from different countries with different cultures, languages, and customs. In turn, I represented my country, Sudan, in extracurricular activities, from Culture Week Events to Sports Meetings.

Academically, I threw myself into a variety of activities. One of my proudest achievements was the Best Poster Presentation in the Faculty of Pharmacy’s Academic Forum 2020 and being awarded the Guobang Scholarship for the Best Academic Performance amongst the international student body in 2020-2021.

Personally, I love the Chinese culture, language, and food. I explored cities across China, like Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Wuhu to see the real Chinese customs for myself. As a Muslim female student from Africa, it was an incredibly valuable experience. I come from a conservative community where in the past women are not even allowed to study apart from travelling abroad. I saw and experienced other people’s lives from a different perspective, and I found myself through the journey. To experience everything for the first time, to live with people with different personalities, cultures and backgrounds; I feel like I was representing myself, my family, my country Sudan, and the Muslim community.

 

Top Tips for Securing a Scholarship

Thanks to the CSC Chinese Scholarship Council, I was able to pursue my ambition to study for a Master’s in Microbiological and Biochemical Pharmacy, with a subspeciality in Cancer Immunotherapy. The award included a full scholarship tuition fee waiver, accommodation, health insurance, and a monthly living stipend. I also won the Guobang Scholarship in my second year due to outstanding academic achievement.

My top tips for students? Study hard, learn different skills, and prepare your application documents in advance. Scholarships applications might appear tricky and it’s easy to presume that the chances to be awarded one is low, but in reality, they simply require a lot of patience – and enthusiasm.

For non-native English speakers, the English language is the key to communication and studying abroad. Also, you need to keep active in your search for a scholarship. Make sure your profiles are updated and if you’re rejected from one, don’t give up! It’s okay to apply more than 10 times for various scholarships to get the one you deserve.

To help students to apply for scholarships, I created a Facebook page called Guidelines/Let’s Talk Scholars. Here you can find plenty more advice and support for applying for different scholarships.

Studying in the UK and Norwich

I’ve always aspired to study in England. British Higher Education providers are recognised internationally for their creative and challenging environments, helping to push students to be their best. Furthermore, I love the cultural and historic attractions, the countryside and landscape, the people, the cities, the art, and England’s reputation for being safe and secure.

As I was about to finish my master’s study, the search for a PhD position and scholarship was on. Despite securing the highly regarded Young Talent ANSO PhD scholarship in China and a PhD position in Sweden, I was drawn to the Quadram Institute.

The Quadram Institute is a centre for food and health research in Norwich, a vibrant city in the East of England. It’s home to phenomenal research facilities and an incredibly friendly community. A PhD at the Institute presented the unique opportunity to study in an interdisciplinary environment, exploring human health and microbes. I was particularly inspired by Professor Nathalie Juge and her group; the Juge Group not only undertake innovative research, but they support and help their group members. All the groups at the Quadram Institute are like one big family!

Overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic

Determined to study in the UK and at the Quadram Institute, I did everything I could to overcome the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a struggle to make my dream a reality; the COVID-19 rules and regulations were quite overwhelming, and a lot of precautions had to be taken. One of these precautions was a 10-day self-isolation period at home before I could commence my studies.

Visas are known to be notoriously tricky to navigate in ‘normal’ times, but during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, the application process presented even more challenges. I am so grateful to Prof Nathalie Juge, the Juge Group, and the Norwich Bioscience Institute’s HR team for guiding me through the process. If you’re applying for a Student Visa or Global Talent Visa, I strongly recommend preparing your documents in advance, seeking guidance from your Institution’s HR or student support services, and starting your application as early as possible – especially if you need to provide an ATAS certificate and English language test like IELTS.

Moving to Norwich from China has been a bit of a cultural shock, especially in the middle of a pandemic (!), but I am thrilled by the multidisciplinary and multicultural environment that the Quadram Institute offers. I also thoroughly enjoyed our first Glytunes meeting that took place in Naples where I could meet up for the first time with all ESRs and PIs from the European Consortium. I can’t wait to carry out my work placements in Giotto Biotech, VU University Medical Center VUMC, and Radboud University RAD when business travel can resume.

My scientific journey to date. Distance: 17549712.0 m | 17549.71 km | 10904.89 mi | 57577795 ft | 19192598.4 yd | 9476.09 nm

My biggest challenges and achievement

Hard work and consistency lead to success. Undertaking my postgraduate studies abroad was equally one of my biggest challenges and achievements so far. Working on Cancer Immunotherapy was quite difficult, as, at the time, I was not very familiar with the subject. However, through hard work, determination, and persistence, I was recognised for the Best Academic Achievement amongst the international student cohort.

I would strongly say that pursuing my PhD at the Quadram Institute is my greatest achievement. It was a long-held ambition to study for my PhD in England, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be at the world-renowned Quadram Institute, with the Glytunes ITN, undertaking innovative research in cancer immunotherapy. It’s my dream to work in this research direction, and I’ve already published four research and review articles in highly respected SCI journals since joining the Institute.

Access to research is difficult in my country Sudan. One day, I hope I can open a research centre in my country and help students, scientists, and the wider community.

 

 

 

References

[1] Lamprinaki D, Garcia-Vello P, Marchetti R, Hellmich C, McCord KA, Bowles KM, Macauley MS, Silipo A, De Castro C, Crocker PR and Juge N (2021) Siglec-7 Mediates Immunomodulation by Colorectal Cancer-Associated Fusobacterium nucleatum ssp. animalisFrontiers in Immunolology 12:744184. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.744184

 

You can find all of Manasik’s latest publications on ResearchGate.

You can also follow Manasik on LinkedIn and Twitter


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