Bringing probiotics to Kenya


Bridget Cox
Thursday, January 16, 2003
Dr. Gregor Reid
A Western professor is working to establish a bacterial research program in Kenya that will help fight AIDS and diarrheal diseases.

Dr. Gregor Reid, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Western and director of the Canadian Research and Development Centre for Probiotics at the Lawson Health Research Institute (LHRI) and colleague Dr. Melanie Katsivo, grants development coordinator and former director of the Public Health Research program at the Kenya Medical research Institute (KEMRI), visited Kenya recently to meet potential research partners.

"We went to establish a long term collaborative venture on probiotics, focusing on reducing HIV infection in women and lowering mortality and morbidity due to diarrhea in children and patients with AIDS," said Reid. Probiotics is the use of bacteria to restore and maintain health.

"Our mission was to solidify our relationship with Kenyan partners and to establish our objectives for the coming six to 12 months" said Katsivo. "We identified partners from three Kenyan universities and are working to solidify an agreement with an industrial company."

Dr. David Mwaniki and the KEMRI hosted Reid and Katsivo.
The motivation for creating a research partnership in Kenya came from Dr. Katsivo who is from Kenya and has conducted social behavioral research on how infection cycles can be interrupted. "I was hired at LHRI to organize and facilitate grants but in this initiative I will be doing research too. I am exploring a cross appointment opportunity with Western."

Katsivo approached Reid about his probiotic research, "I said this is an issue that could really benefit a developing country. I was interested in exploring this especially in this era of AIDS." Probiotics research by Reid and others has shown that bacteria can colonize the intestine and vagina safely, killing pathogenic bacteria and viruses. The concept of probiotics has not yet been studied in Kenya.

Reid and Katsivo have applied for a CIHR development grant and are hoping for financial help from UNICEF and IDRC, development organizations in Nairobi. To get research started, they are looking for seed money from an industrial company in Nairobi.

"This visit internationalizes our work by allowing us to translate the benefits of probiotics to people in dire need of help, while at the same time teaching us about the problems of Africa and learning how colleagues there have approached various situations," says Reid.

"In ten years time it would be gratifying to look back and say our work stimulated local research that lead to improved health of people in that region and beyond; our initial therapies worked effectively; we actively exchanged students and scientists; we obtained funding for the work; and the Kenyan industry has taken new products to market, then many wonderful things can arise."

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