For Christian Nkanga, getting an education, furthering his studies and working with top researchers was a dream come true. While faced with the realities of the socio-economic challenges of his family and home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nkanga knew that perseverance and hope was the only way he would reach his full potential.
Nkanga obtained his Masters in Chemistry at Rhodes University in 2016. In 2017, he started his PhD studies researching a liposome-based drug delivery system for tuberculosis, under the supervision of Professor Rui Krause in the Chemistry Department. Demonstrating a hard-working and proactive spirit, Nkanga was awarded the SACI Postgraduate Medal last year.
Earlier this year, Nkanga was one of 20 Next Generation Scientists (NGS) selected from hundreds of applicants across the world by Novartis Pharma and University of Basel to participate in the programme in Basel, Switzerland. The NGS programme is an extensive three-month learning curriculum on Pharmaceutical Research and Development topics, combined with applied leadership and communications training. It is designed to foster both scientific and professional development.
Guided by Novartis mentors, the interns work on precompetitive scientific or clinical research projects and participated in a leadership development programme designed to enhance decision-making and communication skills. Research projects exposed selected scientists to state-of-the-art methodologies and leading experts in the field while ensuring use within their home infrastructure.
Before winning the internship, Nkanga’s research was centred on liposomal nanoparticles for pulmonary tuberculosis. Since the programme, his research interests extend to the management of chronical diseases using injectable microparticles for sustained drug release, which was his NGS research project. “This experience broadened my research interests and skills in particulate systems, since I usually work only on nanoparticles for drug delivery. It was a truly fabulous professional and scientific exposure for me, which far exceeded my expectations,” said Nkanga.
In Switzerland, he was surprised to discover he was the first Rhodes University student to ever participate in the programme. “I believe in the potential of Rhodes students and hope other Rhodes students will realise that this opportunity offers both academically and in terms of personal growth, and to apply for the internship next year,” he said.
Nkanga’s appointment as a NGS has put him on the forefront of a network of Next Generation Science Programme interns across the world, spanning over 15 countries. The programme opens new windows for potential collaborations with Rhodes University and University of Basel and Novartis. Nkanga hopes to extend these connections to South Africa and the DRC, where he plans to return to after completing his PhD.
As an NGS, Nkanga wishes to contribute to real-life health problems in society. Nkanga asserted, “The NGS programme trains young scientists to become the best that they can be – it has made me understand that science is not just a tool to instruct people, but also a tool to solve health problems.”