Liver cancer in the Gambia and what we are doing about it

By Imperial Medical Student, Aisha Chaudry

Prolifica LogoAs part of my gap year placement, I was given the opportunity to be involved in the PROLIFICA study at the Medical Research Council Unit (MRC) in The Gambia.

PROLIFICA is an EC funded project investigating liver cancer, which arises because of cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, a chronic condition that can stop the liver from functioning.

Having reached my halfway point of my time abroad, I have decided to write a report about my experience so far.

Whilst being at the MRC, I have been able to experience research in both a clinical and laboratory setting. On Mondays through to Wednesdays there are regular morning clinics held for patients who are enrolled onto the PROLIFICA study. Having spent my first few weeks at the clinic, I was able to see how the study is structured and functions on a daily basis. Blood samples are taken from patients who have a routine appointment, which are then collected by lab technicians. Aside from taking basic clinical measurements of patients, I spent time shadowing the doctors, observing ultrasounds and becoming familiar with the symptoms and signs of liver disease.

I have also spent some of my time on the paediatrics ward, where I have become familiar with other common diseases prevalent in Africa, such as Pneumonia. I gained knowledge in basic clinical skills such as analysing x-rays, listening for abnormal breath sounds and simple reflex tests. I anticipate that my clinical experience at the MRC has assisted in developing a skill set to prepare me for my own work at medical school.

In the serology laboratory I have been taught how to process and store blood samples from clinic into serum, plasma, EDTA and buffy coat. I have been learning how to perform techniques such as ELISA’s and HBsAg rapid tests. I am able to perform DNA extractions from serum and also measure the amount of DNA extracted using the Nanodrop. Using this I can assess whether the extraction needs to be repeated or whether it is sufficient to be used in the PCR machine. I hope that with a good foundation in these practices I have been of benefit to PROLIFICA as well as building a good foundation in my own understanding of laboratory skills.

I am part of a small project, which is working on an audit of the liver patients on the ward. I intend to gather data in relation to the burden of the disease in the hospital as well as identify any trends shown in the cases. I hope that this information will be of use, both to the hospital and to PROLIFICA.

I have also been part of a research paper concerning the response to the recent Ebola outbreak. It is hoped that this paper will be published in The Pan African Medical Journal (PAMJ).

I have raised £2000 through family and friends and managed the construction of the well.

Aside from my work at the MRC, in my spare time I have actively been involved in some charity work. I researched and witnessed different projects across the country before choosing to pursue my own project of building a water well to provide for a community of 1000 people. Having visited 5 different locations and spoke to villagers of each I chose the location which I thought was most in need. I have since raised £2000 through family and friends and managed the construction of the well, which began in early March. Before I left for my Easter break the well was just over 4 metres deep and should be fully complete before the end of May.

The children at the orphanage are aged between 3 and 11

I have been visiting three orphanages, not far from the MRC, on a regular basis. The children are aged between 3 and 11 and in total over 150 orphans are looked after. Alongside playing, drawing and colouring with the children I regularly help them with their Maths and English. I also intend to visit the children at school one afternoon. I find it greatly rewarding just to see them smile and to know they look forward to me and also others from the MRC visiting them.

IMG_0924I truly have enjoyed getting to know life in this very different country so far and I am extremely grateful to have been given this opportunity.


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