Today's Faces of Sickle Cell Disease: Kolapo Oyebola, Ph.D.
His story: Kolapo Oyebola, Ph.D., was born in Nigeria, where half the cases of sickle cell disease worldwide can be found. This tragic fact has marked Oyebola’s life and career choices. Now as a researcher at the University of Lagos, he has made it his mission to help strengthen sickle cell disease research in his country.
Oyebola is one of ten African scientists in the inaugural class of the new African Postdoctoral Training Initiative (APTI), a fellowship program designed to build research capacity in African countries and develop ongoing scientific partnerships. The program is a collaboration between the NIH, the African Academy of Sciences, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
His experience with sickle cell disease: “I have had colleagues, friends, classmates affected by sickle cell disease,” Oyebola said. “Some were not fortunate enough to survive. Some didn’t even graduate with us. We never knew [they were sick] because back in Africa you try to hide the disease. We tend to learn about it after the person dies.” If those experiences were not devastating enough, a university colleague in his own department died last year because of the condition. “She had dreams,” Oyebola said. “Her research focus was on viruses. She was supposed to go to Germany with a fellowship, but she passed away before that. The disease – It is just there.”
His research: Oyebola is studying a condition called clonal hematopoiesis and how it can impact transplantation in sickle cell disease patients. Clonal hematopoiesis is an age-related condition marked by the accumulation of genetically abnormal blood cells. Besides increasing the risk of cancer, clonal hematopoiesis contributes to inflammation in atherosclerotic plaques, which is associated with the development of cardiovascular disease.