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Professor Ogunniyi: Dementia Research Pioneer in sub-Saharan Africa

6 May 2018



Science Heroes: Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin


Research: Epidemiology of dementia, epilepsy and stroke.



Professor Adesola Ogunniyi holds a faculty position at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan and is a Consultant Neurologist to the University College Hospital, Ibadan. He was born in Lagos where he had his early education. He attended the University of Ife, Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) as a pioneer student in the Faculty of Health Sciences. He developed his interest in science during the undergraduate course when he studied the effect of chloroquine on peripheral vascular reactivity in the rabbit ear preparation which led to the award of Bachelor of Science with honours in 1975. He graduated as a doctor in 1978 and after internship and national youth service in Saminaka, Kaduna State, he started residency training in Internal Medicine and Neurology at the University College Hospital (1980-85). Those early years were key for his scientific career. He said: “It started during my undergraduate years and blossomed after the completion of residency training when I joined the “publish or perish” group. I benefited tremendously from mentorship”. His mentors have been very important for his story, notably Professor Adetokunbo Durotoye, Late Professor of Physiology, Obafemi Awolowo, University, Ile-Ife, Professor Benjamin O. Osuntokun, Late Professor of Medicine (Neurology), University of Ibadan and Professor Bruce S. Schoenberg, Former Chief, Neuroepidemiology Branch, National Institute of Neurological and Communication Disorders and Stroke, NIH, Bethesda, USA (Late)



While making a discovery is exciting, the path to the discovery (research) always comes with challenges. These challenges can be more severe for scientists in developing countries like Nigeria. Professor Ogunniyi said a few are; “limited facilities for research including library resources, the dearth of trained personnel, obsolete equipment limiting the scope of one’s research, poor research funding, internet access limitations, protected time for researchers to enable them to engage fully in research work”. Due to some of these, he has on multiple occasions used his personal funds to fund his research and to travel for academic events. Despite the challenges, he never relented. He has authored dozens of publications. His work has been recognised on multiple occasions with awards, such as National Award of Federal Government Nigeria (1972-1978), and Bruce S. Schoenberg International Award in Neuroepidemiology (1991), sponsored by the American Academy of Neurology. He was a recipient of the World Health Organization/Fogarty International Center/National Institute of Neurological, Communicative Disorders and Stroke (WHO-FIC-NINCDS) fellowship for Neuroepidemiology training at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, USA between 1986 and 1987. He was appointed Lecturer I in Physiology in September 1987 with a joint appointment in the Department of Medicine. He transferred to Department of Medicine after one year and rose to the rank of Senior Lecturer in 1990. He was promoted to full Professor in 1997. He subsequently served in many academic leadership roles. He was the Director of the Institute for Advanced Medical Research and Training, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan (2011-2014). He currently serves as the Chairman, College of Medicine Research and Innovation Management Unit that is charged with coordinating research activities and grant management in the College of Medicine.


Prof Ogunniyi believes that research benefits strongly from collaboration. He, along with colleagues at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and Indiana School of Medicine, Indianapolis, USA, pioneered a community-based, cross-cultural study of dementia in African Americans and Yoruba in the 90s. He was also involved in multi-site studies of stroke (WHO-STEPS and INTERSTROKE) for elucidating the risk factors. He has collaborated on many research projects and won grants for such studies; notably Ibadan –Indianapolis Dementia Research, RO1 AGO9956-13 (Hendrie/Hall) by National Institute of Aging, USA (1991 to 2012); Grand Challenges Canada grant where he served as the Principal Investigator (2012-2016) for the Identification and Intervention for Dementia in Elderly African (IDEA) Study. Serving as principal investigator, he was also awarded Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI)-linked grant for improving neurologic outcome measurement for interventional research and currently serves as a lead country collaborator for an on-going MEPI-linked Multidisciplinary NeuroAIDS Research Training to Improve HIV Outcome in Nigeria based in Northwestern University, Chicago. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the African Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences and a reviewer for many journals.


Advice for emerging scientists

Success is determined by productivity in research which must be conducted responsibly. There is a need for dedication, perseverance and focus. Mentoring is the best way to achieve success in science. Emerging scientists must not be deterred by some of the challenges listed above but must devise creative ways for overcoming them. Grant sourcing is essential for cutting-edge work, and international collaboration is a must for the necessary exposure and visibility. They “must be seen to be keen and be keen to be seen”. The sky is always the limit and budding scientists must always strive to be the best in their work. 



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