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Husband and Wife Use KGI’s PhD Program as a Stepping Stone to Improve Healthcare in Their Home Country of Nigeria

Uchechukwu “Uche” Anyaduba, PhD ’24, and her husband, Tochukwu “Dubem” Anyaduba, PhD ’21, are pursuing different niches within the life sciences. The duo shares a common goal: to use their industry experiences and the knowledge they’ve gained in Keck Graduate Institute (KGI)’s Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Applied Life Sciences program to deliver more effective and affordable healthcare to their home country of Nigeria.

For Uche, this means utilizing her expertise in business and science to improve healthcare systems through clinical outcomes and data analytics. Dubem plans to employ his bioengineering skills to develop more cost-effective medical diagnostic equipment so that the diagnosis of life-threatening conditions such as malaria is accessible to every citizen of Nigeria, even those living in extreme poverty.

Dubem received his bachelor’s in Microbiology in Nigeria, followed by a master’s in Biotechnology in the UK. For eight years, he worked for Sysmex Partec GmbH, a German company specializing in flow cytometry, a technique used to monitor the lymphocyte count of people living with HIV.

As a field engineer, Dubem traveled around Nigeria to install the diagnostic equipment and train doctors and scientists to use the equipment and interpret data from the analyses. During his travels, he saw how the vast income inequality impacted healthcare.

“I’ve been to places where people cannot afford basic healthcare interventions,” Dubem said. “Organizations would come to community health centers and equip them with different instruments, but the instruments would keep breaking because people didn’t have the training or resources to use them properly.”

This experience shaped his key career focus, which has been to bridge healthcare standards between affluent and impoverished areas in Nigeria. He briefly joined academia as an Assistant Lecturer at Hezekiah University in Umudi, Nigeria, before continuing to the United States in 2016 for his doctorate—shortly after his wedding with Uche.

Before transferring to KGI’s PhD program, he completed a semester in KGI’s Master of Business and Science (MBS) program.

“My career aim has been to do something that directly influences the people in my community, just like I did during my field service experience,” Dubem said.

At KGI, he teamed up with Assistant Professor in Medical Diagnostics Dr. Travis Schlappi to investigate platforms for multiplexing, which is the ability to screen for numerous molecular biomarkers and offer a more precise prescription at point-of-care. Dubem’s dissertation was geared toward developing a system that would exploit loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP)’s specificity in higher-order multiplexing using a primer-payload system to enable the identification of pathogens implicated in polymicrobial diseases such as urinary tract infections.

Under the guidance of Dr. Anna Hickerson, Program Director for KGI’s Master of Science in Medical Device Engineering program, Dubem worked with a team to design an alpha prototype of a handheld device that can identify blood-borne parasites in blood smears using computer vision. His dream is to build on this technology to enable differential blood counts in remote villages across Africa.

Now, as a Senior Design/Product Development Engineer for Abbott, Dubem is working to develop technologies for future platforms in point-of-care diagnostic equipment. He is motivated by the desire to address a critical career question: “How do you design diagnostic devices for people who live on less than one dollar a day so that they do not have to choose between family upkeep and disease diagnostics?”

When he returns to Nigeria, Dubem plans to set up a research and development lab to train younger generations in skills relevant to solving endemic challenges using locally available resources.

“That way, I’ll be able to cut off some bottlenecks in the supply chain and make affordable devices tailored to our exact needs and resource limitations,” Dubem said.

Uche joined her husband at KGI in 2019, where she received her MBS and is now pursuing a PhD. Given Uche’s diverse background, obtaining her bachelor’s in Geological Sciences in Nigeria followed by nearly five years working in the banking industry with Firstbank of Nigeria, she found KGI to be a perfect fit.

“I wanted a school where I could use my business skills as a foundation and then learn new skills,” Uche said.

“Not only does KGI combine business and science unlike any other school, but they provide the best hands-on coaching, mentorship, and professional development.”

Initially, she found the program challenging due to her lack of background in the life sciences, cultural differences, and language barriers. However, she was able to adapt quickly.

“KGI provides a warm and welcoming environment for international students in the sense that they understand we are coming from a different country and have a different culture,” Uche said. “I also love KGI’s teamwork culture. I got the opportunity to learn from people with diverse backgrounds and ended up building good, lasting friendships.”

She thrived despite her challenges, making the Dean’s List and securing Teaching Assistant positions in Corporate Finance and Financial Accounting for Assistant Professor of Finance Dr. Yun Liu. She also secured internships in Product Management, Strategy, and Business Development at 54gene, a health technology platform company that is pioneering the inclusion of the African genome in medical research, and Graduate-Consultant in Technical Services at Gilead Sciences.

Uche enrolled in KGI’s PhD program to enhance her research skills and help companies provide the most effective solutions for saving lives. Currently, she’s working with Dr. Gregory Reardon, associate professor of administrative sciences, to improve clinical outcomes, focusing on surrogate endpoints.

“Surrogate endpoints can be really beneficial in clinical trials in the sense that they help save time, reduce costs, and provide an early opportunity for patients to receive new interventions,” Uche said. “So we’re working to show more evidence that could support the use of surrogate endpoints for certain types of cancer.”

Though she is unsure if she wants to pursue a career in industry, academia, or some combination of the two, Uche’s goal is to use data analytics to improve healthcare in Nigeria.

Both Uche and Dubem express appreciation for KGI’s scholarship, which helped cover their costs as international students.

“I’m grateful to KGI’s donors for the opportunities they’ve made possible,” Dubem said. “As husband and wife in this country with no other source of income, the financial aid helped us get by.”

Dubem expresses gratitude for all the professors who helped him establish a foundation in bioengineering, including Dr. Travis Schlappi, Dr. Angelika Niemz, Dr. Kiana Aran, Dr. Anna Hickerson, and Dr. James Sterling.

“Even though my background is in microbiology, I gained a lot of exposure to bioengineering at KGI, and I acquired the position I’m in today at Abbott as a result,” Dubem said.

Uche believes that KGI has helped her build upon her pre-existing knowledge in finance while gaining meaningful industry experience in market research and analysis.

“Every second I’ve spent at KGI has been worth it—even the challenging times because they made me who I am today,” Uche said.