Non-invasive screening tests for preventive healthcare

My first trip to Ghana – Research collaboration, business and culture

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This November me and our CEO Timo traveled to Accra, Ghana to meet with our research collaborators at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and to introduce our AQ MOBI platform to potential partners in Ghana. This was my first trip to the African continent, and Ghana definitely left a lasting impression. Here’s the story of our trip. 

 

First impressions 

The arrival process in Accra was surprisingly strict compared to Finland, requiring us to have a rapid COVID test and multiple documents, even after having had a PCR test and vaccinations in Finland. But everything was well organised and went by quickly in the late evening. At the airport’s baggage hall there was a short power outage, which evoked a sense of adventure for a short moment. The electricity returned quickly and we met our local guide Gilbert in the exit hall. It was already dark outside the airport, but the air was warm and welcoming.  

The first thing that caught my eyes outside was the amount of construction work going on in Accra, and captivating architecture such as blocks of flats with concave walls and lots of colours in the facades. The streets and common areas were well taken care of, and vegetation and greenery were a natural part of the city. I was delighted with what I saw. 

Moreover, all the local we met were very warm and welcoming. This reception made me feel comfortable and happy. 

 

Busy days meeting interesting people 

During the week we met researchers and students from the University of Ghana and Noguchi’s top management, so that we could continue and deepen our research collaboration on infectious diseases. We also met people from governmental bodies such as Ghana Health Services, National Malaria Control Program, Ghana Standards Authority, and Ghana FDA, and other parties who could be a valuable help in promoting the project with us in Ghana. 

We talked about our technology and our malaria detection collaboration with Noguchi. We showed our results from a proof of concept study that was successfully executed this year, and discussed the potential of our method for the management of malaria and other common diseases in Ghana. We also discussed and agreed on the next steps to introduce the AQ MOBI platform to the Ghanian market, which will start with clinical validation, field trials in 2022, and connecting with potential local partners for the productization. 

As a result of these intense discussion and our trip we will start the process of incorporating a local company in Accra. The project is aimed to begin early next year, and it will include training of new personnel, research and clinical validation of AQ MALARIA, field trial, and different activities related to the productization of the test. We also hope we can perform several Proof of concept studies for other infectious diseases prevalent and common in Ghana. 

 

The interesting history of the NMIMR

During our visit in Accra, we had the opportunity to visit the facilities and hear about the history of our research collaborator Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research. The institute’s story is inspiring – it was built and donated to the people of Ghana by the Government of Japan in 1979 to honor a distinguished Japanese researcher Dr. Hideyo Noguchi, who spent a majority of his life in Ghana researching yellow fever. Dr. Noguchi himself died of the disease in Accra in 1928.

The institute’s history can still be clearly seen in its operations today, for example through the newly built Advanced Research Center for Infectious Diseases at Noguchi, which was built with the help of a grant donated by the people of Japan as a token of friendship and cooperation between the two countries. This collaborative spirit is present when discussing with the people at Noguchi. 

The NMIMR is the premiere research facility in Western Africa, and I was extremely impressed with their facilities as we toured them together with Dr. Linda Amoah. Next to the institute is the large campus area of the University of Ghana, as well as a new medical center, and the NMIMR and the medical center often work closely together. In the back of my mind I kept thinking about all the different research projects we could collaborate on in the future. 

International collaboration has from the very beginning been a very significant part of the institute’s foundation, and their international connections are an invaluable asset, which is why we are also very happy to have the NMIMR as our research partner. Collaborating with high quality research institutes and dedicated people can deliver great research results and a good basis for productization of rapid tests with our technology. This would help in management of many severe diseases and improve the lives of people in Africa, where many infectious diseases are prevalent. 

 

A memorable experience and successful trip

In the midst of all the different meetings we also managed to find some time to do a little sightseeing. We visited many local restaurants and cafes, craft markets, the Independence square of Ghana, and the campus area and library of the University of Ghana. We also saw the Jubilee house and Accras’s cityscape during our car journeys. Me and our CEO Timo both especially enjoyed fresh coconuts, which for us Finns were a very rare treat. Next time it would be nice to go to a football game or visit a theater, for example. 

All the people we met in Accra were helpful and friendly. They were enthusiastic about our technology and the malaria management possibilities that it could offer. Most people thought our platform for detection was innovative and advantageous because of its non-invasiveness, small sample amount, and easy to use platform. People were encouraging and eager to advance the project with us. 

I want to give special thanks to Dr. Linda Amoah, Sarah Laaru, and Gilbert Awuah for the efficient travel arrangements to Ghana and for making everything so easy during our stay and connecting us with the proper people and organizations. This first journey to Ghana created a good basis for future collaborations, and I’m excited to travel to Ghana again some day! 

 

Vilhemiina Lehti

Head of Laboratory

Aqsens Health Oy

 

 

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