Mahmoud Maina (BioRTC), Ben Loos (SABI), and Caron Jacobs (ABIC)

This is a machine transcription and therefore it may contain inaccuracies, errors, or mispronunciations. Notice an error you think needs changing? Please contact the Bitesize Bio team using this form:

Intro/Outro (00:00:02):
Welcome to the Microscopists, a bite-sized bio podcast posted by Peter Oto, sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. Today on the Microscopists,

Peter O'Toole (00:00:14):
Today on the Microscopists, this is a Microscopist Africa special. We're gonna meet with Karen Jacobs of the University of Cape Town with Mamud Mena Boom, Yobe State University Nigeria and University of Sussex, and Ben Lus of University Estel Bosch. And they are gonna discuss their experiences in building microscopy communities. A

Caron Jacobs (00:00:37):
Lot of our sort of linchpins are primarily early career researchers who see this as something that they want to be involved in because it's a space that they want to build their career in.

Peter O'Toole (00:00:48):
Funding challenges for microscopy across Africa,

Ben Loos (00:00:52):
It's challenging to bring in the funds even for the ake of the utilizations

Peter O'Toole (00:00:58):
And the lack of access to core equipment

Mahmound Maina (00:01:01):
In Nigeria. I think, um, when we launched this center by rtc, we have the only, you know, microscope in the entire country

Peter O'Toole (00:01:12):
Oh. In this very special edition of the Microscopist.

Peter O'Toole (00:01:25):
Hi, I'm Peter Etto from University of York, and welcome today to the Microscopist and a special African Bioimaging specialist. And today I have three guests, which is one more than I think we've ever tried before. So actually we have Mamood, we have Ben, we have Karen, uh, all representing different initiatives, uh, for Bioimaging in Africa itself. And it'll be really fascinating to hear about their careers, how it's progressed, but what, where they see bioimaging going, where they wanted to get to, and what the challenges are that still have to be resolved to get to where they want to get to. I think that, so that's the general gist for today. So anyway, OOD, Karen, Ben, how are you all today?

Caron Jacobs (00:02:09):

Peter O'Toole (00:02:09):
Lots comes up.

Caron Jacobs (00:02:12):
I'm good. Um, I, I'm, I'm always happy when I hear that, uh, we've achieved a new record. So if we're one more than you've had previously, that's good news.

Peter O'Toole (00:02:21):
I, it is, and I think because it's a African imaging special, uh, I want to get representation to three very different initiatives. Uh, so actually, do you know what, maybe the best thing to do is if I asked you very succinctly just to describe what your initial initiative is back, what you are trying to achieve? So I'm gonna start with Karen in the first instance.

Caron Jacobs (00:02:43):
Cool. No pressure. Um, so I guess I'm mainly representing what's called the African Bioimaging Consortium, or abic, which started about 19 months ago, officially a year and a half, 19 months ago. And with the idea of, uh, establishing a community and a network for researchers in Africa with an interest in microscopy and bioimaging, um, to get them connected with each other or become a sense of isolation and build a community and, uh, improve capacity of the continent. A lot has come out of that, that I could talk on, but I won't yet.

Peter O'Toole (00:03:23):
Okay. We'll come back to the questions and next.

Mahmound Maina (00:03:28):
Okay. Um, I guess, uh, for this podcast, I'll be speaking, uh, you know, or representing the, uh, biomedical science research and training center at University, university. Um, and this, uh, center was launched, uh, in 2021. And the general idea is that, um, you know, we do, we, we don't have, we don't have the infrastructure for kind of imaging and for research generally. And, uh, you know, we came up with this plan in collaboration with the, you know, government and the scientists to launch this center, which is now having some of the only cutting edge equipment like a confocal. So I guess I'll speaking, uh, from that perspective.

Peter O'Toole (00:04:11):
Okay, Mamu, thank you. And finally, Ben?

Ben Loos (00:04:14):
Yes. Hi, Pete. So, I'm, uh, representing the South African Bioimaging community. Uh, I'm a micr myself since many, many years. And so we are on this journey to, uh, to facilitate utilization of, of primarily light microscopy techniques across, uh, the South African landscape. And there of course, many exciting opportunities, uh, but also many challenges. And so, yeah.

Peter O'Toole (00:04:43):
So, so that, that's an interesting point to start with. Uh, you are all bio imaging, you are all light microscopy. If I've just heard correctly. Do any of you incorporate electron microscopy into that bioimaging side?

Caron Jacobs (00:04:58):
Um, I guess I can jump in. Um, so Abic, uh, has started with a bias towards light microscopy, uh, mainly due to the interests of the people who've gotten involved from the get go. But we are not exclusive with light microscopy at all. Uh, we are looking at how to expand towards, um, electro microscopy. There's actually, uh, there is a presence for electro micr in bioimaging on, on the continent. And then we are linked with, uh, biomedical researchers as well. But our, our focus is more than microscopy. But yeah, we have a bias, but, uh, we're trying to work on it.

Peter O'Toole (00:05:38):
Quick question there. Sure. Is that bias because the, the light microscopy was already talking to together better maybe in the electron microscopy community? Uh, or is there, are there more light microscopy communities? Why do you think that bias is there to start with?

Caron Jacobs (00:05:55):
Um, I, I think it's the interest of those of us who sort of got this rolling and off off the ground, and also a perception that it is a easier field to get people into imaging at the site. It's much easier to teach people how to use a basic light microscope or a wide field than a T E m. Um, so it's kind, it's kind of both those things that we, we see the potential for, for light microscopy and the impact in research. And it's not really something that's heavily used in research in Africa, and it's teachable. Um, the interesting flip side, if we start to get into the sort of existing infrastructure in, in Africa, is that there are a number of electron microscopes across the, the continent primarily used for material sciences. And that means that there is an EM community and there are researchers with easier access to em. So that's why we're, we're trying to work out how to, um, get them into the fold and sort of make, make ourselves more applicable to them. Um, I know for example, within South Africa, there are quite a few researchers using, uh, TEM and ACM for bioimaging that we, uh, are not getting in contact with. But I think Ben is,

Peter O'Toole (00:07:11):
So I think that's an interesting point. You, you mentioned the, the, there's a lot in the material world for electron microscopes. And is that because of the, the mining industries and the amount of, uh, industrial income coming to help and the research put into that because of the, the, again,

Caron Jacobs (00:07:28):

Peter O'Toole (00:07:29):
Infrastructure for the countries themselves? Is is that

Caron Jacobs (00:07:33):
I, I, I think it's exactly that. And, uh, depending on how political you want to get, I think that's also strongly linked to the colonial history of the continent in terms of resource extraction and that sort of thing. That that's a space that industry more easily invests in on the continent.

Peter O'Toole (00:07:49):
So it's by images you need to go and, uh, muscle into their electron microscopes and start using bio side.

Caron Jacobs (00:07:56):
Well, I, I think slowly people are, um, and we are just trying to convince them that sort of a good wide field and, uh, a good confocal, uh, are, are useful too, because you can actually do things that you can image things that move, which you can't do on an electron microscope to start that.

Peter O'Toole (00:08:14):
You know what, confocals are really good for materials as well, . So actually from that side and start seeing things they may not have been realized they could do so easily. Um, Mamood you were gonna say something, I apologize.

Mahmound Maina (00:08:27):
No, it's all right. Um, I just wanted to, I say that, um, I think, uh, from, uh, my perspective, especially, you know, looking at Nigeria, you say that when we talk about by imaging, people mostly think about, uh, light microscopy because the infrastructure is not existing for let's say, electrons microscope. Um, I can remember, I, you know, in my undergraduate days, um, I was shown an electrons microscope, but that stopped working like probably decades before I joined the university. Um, and, uh, I am aware of researchers also, you know, going outside Nigeria to other countries to image their grids. So I think, uh, you know, we, the bias could also be due to the lack of the available infrastructure for electrons Micro

Peter O'Toole (00:09:13):
Mm-hmm. . Ok. And Ben, is that similar for yourself?

Ben Loos (00:09:18):
Yeah, so on the one hand, it's true, there's a very strong material science background since many years due to that industry, uh, utilization. But life sciences has kind of come in, there's a strong work on radiology, blood related diseases. And what we have been, um, busy with in the last two years, um, is through the correlative field to bring in, uh, t e m and so correlative, uh, microscopy. Um, and that is of course, um, yeah, a a growing field that connects these two communities. I think generally tm, of course, diagnostics. Uh, so most of our TMS are also embedded in the diagnostics, uh, systems and not so strongly, uh, in the, you know, in the academic institutions. I think it's starting to change through the, through the Clem approaches,

Peter O'Toole (00:10:17):
Right? I think Clem correlated light electron microscopy. It's always good to make a lighter work of electron microscopy. Uh, sorry, I getting late in the day over here. So a, a good pun is always worth it. ,

Ben Loos (00:10:31):
I enjoyed that .

Peter O'Toole (00:10:33):
I would say I'm a serial offender, but maybe I'm just a serial section of when it comes to electron microscopy. Anyway, I, I will digress. So the next bit I need to really bring up is how has it all been funded for the initiatives? There's one thing having your research funded in, which we'll come to in a minute, but what about these initiatives? Who is supporting these initiatives? Companies, charities, governments, uh, and I'm gonna start, I'm gonna go the opposite way this time. I'm gonna start with you Ben.

Ben Loos (00:10:58):
Yeah, so, so the South African Bioimaging, uh, community is, uh, pretty much, uh, very poorly funded. Uh, we have interest, we have interest by users, and we have interest by our, um, our partners in, in industry, so the microscope partners and, and, and uh, uh, reagents and so forth. But unfortunately, strategically, there is no funding for, you know, for, for upkeep of, uh, the community with administration and so forth. I think Pete, we are also still in kind of in, uh, in baby steps there. So we are still in the process to create that awareness and, and bring that to the attention of the respective governmental structures. But at the moment, it is completely driven on a voluntarily base next to the, next to your main job, basically.

Peter O'Toole (00:11:58):
Yeah. And I say, so obviously in Europe, well internationally we have the Royal Microscopical Society, but it's very UK-centric still at the moment. But it is there to help and support outside. But actually looking at a lot of other initiatives, even in Europe, a lot of it does start with the volunteers, you know, and actually I think that's a big message for anyone listening. A lot of societies are completely dependent upon volunteers putting their time and efforts in to help the community develop. Uh, and that's not to be forgotten. So I think it's great cuz that's where we all start. It has to start, but so from the ground upwards and the ground is us, it's the volunteers that step up to it. Uh, Mahmoud, what about yourself in, in Nigeria? How is that funding panning out for the, for the network side and the training and the training center?

Mahmound Maina (00:12:47):
Um, so, uh, as a center we are embedded in a university. So, and, uh, because of that we have a structure that was given by the university to use. Um, but uh, because we, you know, this is, we just started, uh, if you, you know, last year, there are a lot of things that needs to happen before we can fully become like, um, you know, an, uh, in a robust center, you know, doing research, uh, and supporting the community. And to be honest, most of what we do at the moment, uh, you know, is through our links. We trained in Africa, uh, trained in Africa is an NGO that I'm part of. Um, uh, I'm a coordinator and trained in Africa. And through that links we have volunteers again that are on paid supporting some of the activities that we do in terms of, you know, either providing mentorship or, uh, providing, let's say some high end training, always even sending equipment to the center.

But taking of that, we are kind of, um, lucky to have funding. For example, when we started this from welcome trust and then we got a funding from the chance to go back, uh, for in initiative, which really enabled us to fully, you know, get on with what we want to do in terms of training in term, you know, the next generation supporting other people to have access to image and E T C. And this funding is for three years. So we are not worried at the moment, but we know that, uh, beyond that we have to start thinking about, uh, you know, what to do to ensure we, you know, sustainability.

Peter O'Toole (00:14:27):
Okay, thank you ood. And, uh, Karen, I think similar for Chan Zuckerberg, but other funders, other,

Caron Jacobs (00:14:33):
Uh, no. So similar to, um, Ben's description, ABIC started as a volunteer, sort of, it actually snowballed, I think, at a much greater rate than those of us who first got involved, expected it to, uh, which is a great problem to have. Um, but we started with no funding. We were fortunate to get c d I funding in the same round as initiative with their expanding global access to bio imaging, um, call, uh, and they, that's been, uh, hugely instrumental in allowing us to get people together, um, in person. And, um, we'll, we've got some other, um, travel opportunities that will be funded. We'll, we're announcing them in January and they'll be funded by the C C I grant. Um, we do also have funding for a coordinator, which will help, um, a lot of, it'll alleviate the burden of a lot of what a lot of the current volunteers are, are doing.

But, um, a lot of the key activities are actually not the sort of thing that takes money. It takes time. It's maintaining a, a website which a coordinator can, can assist with. But it's kind of feeds into, uh, a lot of what South Africa by imaging, um, sort of how it operates in terms of, it's just volunteer time, which has been an interesting, and it's unexpected challenge to communicate to the community sometimes I think because there's such an intense hunger and need from the community for support that they see anything formal looking and are immediately expecting something with much greater powers than we have. And it's taken a lot to communicate that we're a volunteer organization and you, you can get involved too, but we don't have magic powers. Um, but uh, there's power in numbers.

Peter O'Toole (00:16:26):
Yeah. So, so for all of you with the volunteers there, there's a lot of well-meaning volunteers that will volunteer and they'll be full of good ideas. How do you actually get the right sort of people, not just to have the good ideas, but to actually see the ideas through and actually delivering those I has that been easy? Or is that only a select few that actually step up and deliver what the ideas are and actually proactive in, in whatever it is, the administration, the contacts, and whether it's website, whatever it is, how have you found that? Uh, my mood first? Maybe we'll go different order.

Mahmound Maina (00:17:01):
Yeah, I guess, uh, for, for me, because when we talk about dev biopsy, ftc, our center, you kind of look at it as an initiative, but also as an infrastructure for research. So it's kind of like having two things at a time, uh, especially because we were funded by C Z I to form this, uh, kind of, uh, network in West Africa. So from the network point of view, um, I think, um, people are quite excited to volunteer. We have a coordinator paid for by, from the SUSE I funding, but we need more than that to be able to do this, the kind of things that we are doing or we want to do. Uh, so we've got a lot of volunteers through Trend in Africa who have been doing things in African content anyway, uh, you know, voluntarily. So they are quite keen on doing it, and especially they see this initiative that we have as something that would, uh, that they can easily use to, uh, to major impact.

Because in the past, what we used to, what we used to do in training Africa is to organize a workshop, let's say in Uganda, in Tanzania, in Sara Africa, other places. But here we have a center that is domiciled in one institution. So you can easily count a number of people going in there to use the facility. You can easily know a lot of different things. So from that perspective, having volunteers that are passionate to do it has come, has been easy. But from the angle of now the training part or the, you know, center itself, because we're in an institution, which is a new university that was launched like, uh, 20 years ago I think now. So, uh, there are a lot of things that, um, you know, challenges that we are going through. For example, the infrastructure, the, you know, the, you know, the scientists or researchers that have the capacity to use the facility that we have brought to the, to the institution.

And I think not just that institution, I think this is something more general across Nigeria as well. So for example, we have about four staff in the center, one senior staff, and then three tech, tech, uh, technologies. And all of these, with the exception of the senior staff, they need training. Two of them are coming to Europe to get into the Josh program. So I think from that angle, we are little bit, you know, uh, struggling, but they're all passionate. So that is one good thing about it. And the institution is also very supportive in terms of providing some dedicated funds and stuff like that to support them.

Peter O'Toole (00:19:30):
I, I'll tell you what, having had a couple of weeks with me, Maud, I'll be glad to get home. . Thank you. They should be warned. , it's quite crazy. Mad house sometimes up in York. Uh, and Karen, is it similar getting people to deliver, uh, what their ideas are?

Caron Jacobs (00:19:48):
Yeah, we, um, we, most of our activities come from a core group of active people, but it's, um, it's been exciting to see how recently we've grown. One of the ways that, again, because as we speak to people, there's this, we get ideas and requests thrown at us all the time. Um, what has helped us a lot is that when we started, we actually started with a community meeting of sort of people that we knew that we, we got about 18, 20 researchers, um, in a Zoom call and had a long discussion about what, what people saw was needed by the community. And from that we kind of pieced together agreement, uh, for this network that we wanted to, to, to start. And a lot of this work was done by, uh, myself and my colleague, Michael Reiki, who's, uh, been fantastic to work on this.

And we sort of gave ourselves very clear points. Like, um, our big thing was we didn't want to replicate effort done by other initiatives. So we are aware of a bunch of, uh, training initiatives that Mike and I are actually involved in separately. So we didn't wanna be another training initiative, for example, we obviously don't have capacity to be a funding, um, program. So we kind of whittled it down to what can we do in building the community? And we gave ourselves key goals and, um, at least until we feel like we've achieved those goals and the community says, actually, now we really do need this next thing. And if that next thing is we want you to start a, a massive workshop program, we'll see if we there. But un until then we've got this remit that we, uh, it helps us to work in.

But, um, aside from that, it, it is sort of just getting people in who have had the, the, the challenges, the capacity, uh, from people to, to work on this. So covid, oddly enough, was, um, a bit of a windfall for us in terms of African researchers up until then did not routinely work online. All of a sudden we were all used to working on Zoom. So getting people into regular Zoom calls was, uh, uh, not a challenge, whereas a year prior it would've been. Um, but a lot of the volunteer networks, um, Australia and the world, um, are supported by core facility staff to a large extent or, or other enthusiasts without, uh, Africa doesn't have a lot of core facility, core facilities in general. So we don't have core facility staff who can say this is, I can justify spending my time on this, which means that a lot of our, um, sort of, um, linchpins are primarily early career researchers who see this as something that they want to be involved in because it's a space that they want to build their career in as opposed to a large PI or some, someone like that.

So we, we, we, we've got some firecrackers in in the group and a lot of other people who kind of come and go as they've got capacity and both are fantastic . Um, but yeah, that, I think that's, that's a good enough answer.

Peter O'Toole (00:22:51):
No, that's pretty good. And just thinking about the, the philosophy, uh, the culture core facilities, uh, I I would say back in the UK 20 years ago, you know, it wasn't according to core facilities and in 20 years, almost no one, almost few, but the majority of the high end microscopes, electron microscopes, like microscopes, flow cytometers, mass spectrometers are now in core facilities with dedicated core staff. So it happens really fast, uh, especially when the funders key thing is, once the funders realize how much more impact their funds can be to, yeah, the funds can be leveraged if it goes into core facility rather than independent academic lab, and it's getting that shift. I, I think it'd be very hard now in the UK to get funding to buy your own confocal microscope or your transmission electron or super resolution light sheets, whichever it is. Mm-hmm. Hard to get an individual to get one in their own lab. Now it, it, it's almost all 20 years ago that was much less the case, but now, now it's right over because obviously we all know everyone can use them. Then it, it opens up the access to those who, who can't apply just themselves. Yeah. Step up in their, their academic careers. And Ben, what about yourself, Phil, South Africa? Yeah,

Ben Loos (00:24:12):
I think, I think, um, you know, the pain connects, you know, uh, the, the, we are, we are sitting with the same pains, you know, the, the PIs, the students, and we are quite privileged in a sense, you know, we do have, yeah, at Sambo University we have a very good imaging facility, but the pains of, you know, are we globally competitive? What are we aligned are what protocols sound, that's for us. But then for the stu you know, then we think of course, how bad must it be then for, you know, the institution that is, you know, remote that is, you know, a former teaching institution now has to suddenly do research and doesn't know where to start. And then we think of the poor students, you know, that miss out. So those that stick with us are those that feel that same pain and just want to make a change for that. And, and that's quite nice, you know, that anchors and brings together and, um, is robust and, you know, I hope that that, that, that sees us through.

Peter O'Toole (00:25:16):
Yeah, I I think you are tapping on students is really important too, because it's not just early career postdocs, it's those PhDs coming through that are looking to improve their cvs and actually

Ben Loos (00:25:27):

Peter O'Toole (00:25:28):
These networks by, by by default they improve their own network, which imp improve their charter getting their next post-doctoral position. Cuz they have contacts networks, they get known, they get a feel for a wider view than just what's going on in their own lab. So students are a really great resource. I'm wanna mix it up a bit cuz we, we've been quite serious up to now. You sent me some pictures, all of you. So I, I I've kind of randomized on Zoom, so I I you're gonna have to tell me what they are and who they're from. So first one is this one.

Caron Jacobs (00:26:00):
Ooh. Okay.

Peter O'Toole (00:26:01):
So whose picture is that?

Caron Jacobs (00:26:02):
That, that's mine. Um, so that is, yeah, that is the, the cohort of the latest imaging Africa workshop that we had that was run, uh, mid-October, end of October this year. So that is, you're seeing a mixture of faculty. Um, most of the faculty is either local or from the advanced imaging center engineer. For anyone watching, you'll recognize a few familiar faces in there. I think there's the, in the middle for sure. Yeah. And then the rest is, uh, 24 students, um, exclusively from around Africa. Uh, so the imaging Africa workshop is targeted exclusively to African, um, students and early career researchers. Um, and to make sure that cost is not a barrier to access. All expenses are paid for all selective students. So that, that was a great cohort that we had there.

Peter O'Toole (00:26:56):
You know what's really spooky? I've just noticed if you, if you are listening to this, you're just gonna have to imagine it's a big group picture and it's a zoom, my zoom background, but it's like I've got Leon just chatting away in my ear. Yes.

Caron Jacobs (00:27:06):
He's just heard there.

Peter O'Toole (00:27:08):
Yeah, it's real. Cuz when you go to a conference, it's like, it's just like this in your ear, Pete, you've gotta do something here, you gotta do this. Cause he's so creative in his ideas and he is thinking,

Caron Jacobs (00:27:17):

Peter O'Toole (00:27:18):
So that's cool. Next picture is, God, which one should we do this one? Well, that this is actually even, I know this must be off you, Ben.

Ben Loos (00:27:27):
Yes, that is. Uh, so the, the fun bit is that you can see I still had to be at the time, but it's, uh, I was told I'm looking too old with the mute. So this is at, uh, at a conference a few years ago. And, uh, some of my former students said all one prize at this was at the Microscopy conference, E S A, which is our academic conference here in South Africa, happens every second year now in December. And these students, I'm just so proud of them. They've been, you know, they're all successful. Uh, Johan on the left runs our first South African African block face, s e m, uh, Dume, uh, in the middle she is at the Cricks Institute, uh, in London, uh, working on a super exciting Clem kit project for four SBI in fact. Um, and then on the right also successful or PhD. So this was just a special moment. It, it's, you know, this is the meaning also, you know, the motivation why we bring the technology in and some students love it and you know, and spend all the time they have on the microscope drive it themselves. And this is absolute joy for me to, to see.

Peter O'Toole (00:28:39):
And you say is dream, is it Arick, was it, so is that with Lucy Collinson or collaboration with

Ben Loos (00:28:43):
Yes, correct. Correct. Yes. So Lucy and I, we've been collaborating since many years. Uh, in fact she helped us, uh, in baby steps to set up our Clem process over the last years. And, and Domi is there involved now in the, uh, uh, in the, the management of, uh, this Clem kit, uh, also sees that I based, uh, project democratizing Clem and, uh, being South African, she actually just recently welcomed the South African president over there at the creek. So this is just super exciting things that are happening there. Uh, in this

Peter O'Toole (00:29:19):
You can see how this net, this networking is going in big places then. And the final picture that I'll put up

Mahmound Maina (00:29:26):
, um, yeah, so this, uh, this was, this was actually a picture, uh, taken I think during one of our workshops in July, um, you know, with Hidi and Leman. So, uh, Schleman is a research, uh, technician in, uh, in bio rtc and Hida is actually, um, a PhD student at the University of Lowering. Um, and because the way, you know, we organized the workshop, we said, okay, you know what, uh, all students that want to attend this workshop have to have an ongoing project, uh, in such that once they get trained with our equipment, they get to now continue using it for their project. Because oftentimes you see people come in and then they get a certificate and then they disappear. So Hidi was one of the PA students that we selected because she has this exciting project, but she doesn't have, um, you know, the facility where she can, uh, you know, either image the samples or, you know, uh, use the flies or whatever they wanna do.

Uh, so we selected her and in this particular picture it's with the dissecting microscope. Um, it's a shame that you can't show the other pictures where we have the confocal, but generally, uh, you know, the idea is that because with Bioc, you know, we want to, uh, it's more like a co facility. So all the students that get trained there, or even after the summer school, we get, uh, we have these, you know, um, applications that comes in enrolling bases where people want to come there to run their projects or experiments and then use the facility. So this was like, uh, a picture taken, uh, during that workshop. And it is quite exciting because now we have them coming back to Bio RTC to continue, uh, you know, their projects.

Peter O'Toole (00:31:07):
So, so following a similar thing. So I'm just looking at the pictures that are all being sent. There's this one as well, which is utterly different. So this is no very young, very, very young children.

Ben Loos (00:31:20):
Yeah. Getting tears in my eyes. Peter . So these are my two boys, Joshua and Avan Oh wow. A few years ago. And, uh, they are, well they are using at home microscopy to, to, to check out beetles and what whatever they can find. And um, yeah, this is just, uh, some, some fun at home .

Peter O'Toole (00:31:42):
That's super cool. And one more,

Caron Jacobs (00:31:46):
Oh gosh, ,

Peter O'Toole (00:31:48):
This is you though. Uh,

Caron Jacobs (00:31:50):
So that is me. I'm, I'm sure I'm much bigger than things , but, uh, that, that, that's with one of my toys. That is a, um, CSI lira in our BSL three lab. So that's a super as microscope, some microscope that's, um, was purchased to allow researchers to use it for, uh, pathogens like, um, mycobacterial to put Mycobacterial, tuberculosis, um, plasmodium a, uh, h I v, um, any other pathogens. It's not exclusive B BSL three users can bring in non-pathogenic samples, but it's in the DSL three lab so that, um, we can do some, some, uh, more risky experiments on it.

Peter O'Toole (00:32:33):
Is that, and Eli is seven?

Caron Jacobs (00:32:35):
Yeah, no, no, no, no. So this, we've had it for a few years. It's an ELI S one. Ok. So it's, uh, yeah,

Peter O'Toole (00:32:41):
It's got sim but not sim squared on it.

Caron Jacobs (00:32:44):

Peter O'Toole (00:32:45):
So if sites are listening, they should be thinking about giving you some sim squared upgrades to support this.

Caron Jacobs (00:32:49):
Well, we, we have one of those in the, the new facility, the, the micro facility. So we're, um, I won't say spoiled, but we're very fortunate , uh, for everything that we have.

Peter O'Toole (00:33:04):
I think that chime quite nice nicely where I'd like to go next with this conversation to, to actually get a feel for what infrastructure you actually have, uh, firstly on your own doorsteps. So in your own institutes, uh, and being this cabinet you just mentioned, you got the, the yes one and you've got year live is seven. What else do you have?

Caron Jacobs (00:33:22):
Okay. Um, I feel like I have to pre preface this with, um, we are not a representative sample of the, the South African or, or, or African infrastructure, which is why, um, it our is accessible in, in the way it is. So, um, we have two core facilities, and I'll try this through this as quickly as possible, but we have two facilities. One is internal and that BSL three microscope is part of the internal facility along with a screening microscope. Also in BSL three, it's a molecular devices system. And we've got an old Delta vision, uh, uh, a developmental light sheet, um, supported by M squared lasers as well as a stellar vision, which is an unusual one, um, for spatial transcriptomics. And those are all accessible to local researchers as well as anyone else who wants to come and use it. And then we have a new imaging center that was launched in October, which is based at U C T. And I'm fortunate that I, I have access to it. I, I help, um, sort of run it to some extent with my colleague Mike, but it, it's a resource for the entire African continent, continent as it's part of the African microscopy initiative. And at this,

Peter O'Toole (00:34:41):
This is all of Africa, northeast, southwest,

Caron Jacobs (00:34:44):
Everyone in Africa. So we actually came up with the correct phrasing of how, how to describe this because, um, if you are sort of in discussions with people, the way we've thrown it around has been met with some confusion. So I'll, I'll, I'll get to try this out, uh, pa publicly for the first one. Now this is accessible to, um, any scientist in Africa during not for-profit research, um, anywhere in Africa. Um, and one of the fantastic things about this facility is that, um, it's accessible only through, um, submitting a project proposal. But if you're invited based on your project proposal, travel and accommodation to visit is covered by our very generous funders.

Peter O'Toole (00:35:31):
How many visitors would that be per year? Because at the moment, this is sounding like utopia,

Caron Jacobs (00:35:36):
Right? ?

Peter O'Toole (00:35:38):
Well, I'm gonna be quite confident, isn't you Tokyo, because it's a very big continent. There's lots of researchers. So how, so that funding, I presume, is charity funded for people to come down and travel bursaries, uh, and the expenses, uh, how, how many will that server? Yeah.

Caron Jacobs (00:35:56):
Uh, with our current capacity, which is a combination of funds and staff to support it, we are looking at being able to support between, um, 12 and 16 visitors for projects a year for up to four weeks. Um, that, that limitation, if we're at the upper limit, is actually the harder limit is staff to support and support visitors while they're here. Um, if anyone's listening in as interested in providing additional funding, then we can get more staff and pay for more travel, then we can do more . But, um, to go back to your original question, sort of now that I've given the, the preface, we have, um, five microscopes available that, uh, researchers can access. One of them is that Eli R seven, and that's as well as Palm Storm. Um, we have a fully equipped, um, widefield auto, um, a fluorescent microscope, uh, equipped for lifestyle imaging and UV to all the way through to near infrared.

So we can, uh, tackle a lot of unusual labels and, uh, or pathogens, organisms, uh, and samples on that. We have a lsm, so as line scanning confocal nine 80, which is the latest generation with ary scan two and spectral remixing, um, as well as, uh, what's called a cell describer seven, which is ISIS screening and high content microscope and a tissue gnostics slide scanner. So we, the, the range of what we can take is quite huge and, um, we'll be launching the opening the first call for applications for projects in March. And I'm almost nervous to see what it is that we'll be getting as proposals all in a BSL two lab. So

Peter O'Toole (00:37:43):
We should talk after. Cause your equipment rate is very, very similar to what we have. Really, really

Caron Jacobs (00:37:48):
Simple Oh, fantastic.

Peter O'Toole (00:37:50):
Really, really we'll talk after anyway, but it says UN Okay, great. And we, we've also open access, so we have probably a dozen different external users per year coming. Uh, and then we have people. Okay, great. Shadow for a couple of weeks and, uh, but I'm gonna keep moving. I'm now gonna go, actually I'm gonna go to Ben first cuz you are Cape Town . Yes. And Ben, you are at Dun Bosch, so you're both in South Africa. How well resourced are you?

Ben Loos (00:38:17):
Yes, so we are, we are not too far away from Cape Town and I think we are also one of the better funded universities, but our, our equipment rate is quite mod. So we started in, um, in 2004 with a white Field IX 81 workhorse system that kind of, we used to build the fluorescence, the, the imaging community. And then since 2011 we, we have a a seven 80 system confocal system with sim and then we upgraded that, uh, two years later to, to storm. So we basically brought super resolution into the academic field, uh, and that's all on the light microscopy side. And then we have two sems strong, you know, on the material science with E D X detector and so forth. That's actually very important for kind of business generation in our platform. And then we have, uh, a block face, s e m on our medical campus geared for, you know, medical samples. But that's what we use for our correlative approaches. So light microscopy relatively modest and also getting old. So we, we need to, you know, it's always very worrisome because getting new equipment is, is, is not easy and it's a long road, but that's, that's our capacity and it's doing nice work.

Peter O'Toole (00:39:37):
Okay. So I think this is gonna be a bit different now. I'll go, I'm gonna go to Mahmoud. I think we've all, you already kind of insinuated what you have. What do you have up in Nigeria?

Mahmound Maina (00:39:46):
Yeah, it's quite exciting, uh, to hear, you know, the capabilities, um, at the microscopic center in cap, you know, where Ben is, uh, et cetera. Um, , our situation is entirely different. Um, so for us, you know, in Nigeria, I think, um, when we launched this center by actually, see we have the only, you know, confo and micro swab in the entire country. Um, we have an LSM 700 in the center. And apart from that, uh, we have, um, you know, all fluorescence microscope like ni you know, Nikon I 50 I think, and then we've got a Z and all Z you know, um, that needs to be fixed for it to be fully operational as a wide field. Um, but of course, you know, thinking about imaging, I don't like to think about a, a, you know, confocal or a eCom microscope itself. I also wanna think about other equipment like plate readers.

So we have like fluorescent one, fluorescent plate reader, we have, uh, Leco O system for imaging, Western BLO chain, fluence, Western BLO chain, which we acquired last year. So in reality, in the center, we, we do have some of this equipment. And, um, general idea is that given that none of this is existing anywhere in Nigeria, at least the lyco, I'm sure we don't have it anywhere in Nigeria, the LSM 700 and you know, not anywhere in Nigeria as well. Um, so this is where we really want it to be an open access facility. You know, just like I know Karen mentioned, uh, what is really important for people to, let's say go to South Africa, if they have this high end, you know, experiment that they wanna do, you know, to use it. Some of these experiments can be started back, let's say, locally, you know, and then if there's any need to take the experiment further, then they can go there.

And also I think, um, in terms of funding realities, also, it's not possible, for example, to have many people go to South Africa to do those things. And, uh, this is why we are really, you know, um, trying hard now to see that we are able to meet up with the expectations in our community in Nigeria. Because one thing that I would like to mention is that over the last 10 years, we trained in Africa, whenever we advertise for workshops, we receive more appli. Over 50% of applications come from Nigeria. So probably cause of our population and probably also because there are many different, many scientists. So we know that therefore with a facility in Nigeria where we are now, at least, we are going to reduce that demand, uh, for people accessing that When there are workshops in other places, they will feel that we, they don't necessarily have to go there because they already have the facility there.

But to be honest with you, as a conclusion, I think, um, you know, we are quite excited because, you know, it's looking very good for the community, but we have to bolster our capacity to be able to meet up to the expectations in the community. So if you're out there listening and you have AFO card or you have a white pillow, you have whatever, you know, do donate. And that reminds me, you know, we were recently donated and l m five 10, you could say that M five 10 is quite an old system, you know, but this is the situation, you know, that we are, we said, oh, we still wanna collect it because, you know, um, the, it'll be put to good use. Even though in some places you could argue that LSM five 10 is quite an old system, um, problematic even, uh, to, to, to collect, given that it's way, way, you know, not, uh, maintained by size anymore and many other things. But I think for us, we have to accept whatever we are able to get to have some imaging that we can do to get the community going. And once there is more interest, we could have more support, either from government and even from other, you know, external funders to improve, uh, you know, the equipment that we have.

Peter O'Toole (00:43:54):
Okay. So I have a couple of really quick questions. First question is, how many researchers do you have in your institute?

Mahmound Maina (00:44:01):

Peter O'Toole (00:44:02):
We, the life science, bio

Mahmound Maina (00:44:04):
Life science general?

Peter O'Toole (00:44:05):
Yeah, just life science and bio. Roughly, roughly

Mahmound Maina (00:44:08):
How many? I would say that we have, um, probably, uh, 40, 50.

Peter O'Toole (00:44:14):
Okay. So you've got 40 or 50 academics. You are like your, so that means you have 25 to 30 different groups that'll be wanting access to the advanced microscopes. And just for the, this puts in context, it's great having abic, it's great having that resource. Actually. They need to get that proof of concept data to show that they can use it and what they can do. And it just, it's, it's a, it opens a door. Mm-hmm. , it doesn't solve the problem because, you know, up in 19, you, you need this to be local. Mm-hmm. , these resources need to be local. And the next point, uh, which I think Karen Polly wanted to come in on anyway, you mentioned the secondhand, the LSM five 10. Can I challenge this? Is it really a good thing to have an LSM five 10? Because you'll get it circuit board and break you then can't fix it and you have to dispose of it.

Yeah. Cuz it, I I I'm, I I'm not convinced that you think, I think robust workhorse fluorescence microscope, this is easy. This is not a problem. And you can get a lot done. Look, we have really old widefield fluorescence microscopes. Soon as they retire. Confocal, we keep the microscopes, they go on for years. But the confocals, the service, the support, the tra if the software glitches, you're snookered. Uh, for those who are not in, uh, the uk snooker is a game, like a pool, a bigger table, . Uh, and, and the challenge is to actually stop people hitting balls. It becomes a real problem. And so, Karen, I I'm guessing you were probably gonna come in on this. Um,

Caron Jacobs (00:45:50):
Yes. Um, Peter, I, I did warn you, but before we started recording that you've got people in the room who can speak on this topic for hours. I have so much that I could say in response to this. Um, the, the first one is actually, um, just to to point out that that sort of what Maud was, um, touching on is sort of the ideal of what we, what we want to aim for in terms of having facilities closer to where people are. So, um, what we're doing with Abic, what we're doing with the African Masp Initiative, um, all of this capacity development is by, I mean, ABIC, it's a community network and the whole motivation behind it is it's not sufficient. It's not good enough for researchers to always need to travel to, to access routine research equipment. Yes. Um, at a certain point, plane tickets are cheaper than some of the, some of the equipment out there that one can envision.

But if you, if you always have to travel and you always have to be dependent on other people to use equipment, even if it's, even if it's very generous collaborators, you don't have the same sort of ownership of the research that you would have if you could just go to the core facility down the corridor or two falls up. So especially with, with, with, with ami, with the imaging center, it is to give people access so that they can drive a project, get piloted pilot data. And the idea is that they leave that facility with training. They, we've taught them how to use the microscope and with data that they can put into a publication and a grant application. Cuz the ideal is what we want is first hubs, something like bio RTC and nodes across the whole continent that people can access. And that needs to grow into a core facility in your institute wherever you are.

Or if you're in, uh, at one city, sort of maybe something slightly decentralized across a couple of, of, uh, institute, um, sort of universities. Um, so, so that is critical and you're absolutely right that sort of talking about one microscope accessible by all these research groups, especially in comparison to some of the resources out there, um, in, in the global north. We've got a long way to come and sort of, we've got incredibly generous research from funders and governments in some cases. But there's, there's a need for more. The the trick is, and this is the segue, um, we need to do it in a way that is strategically smart and in a way that is also respectful to the community that is, um, in, on the receiving end. So, so equipment donation for example, is a hornet's nest. Um, equipment gets donated regularly in Africa.

We hear about, there's a confocal setting somewhere in Tanzania. We've never heard about it. Most people don't know it's there because it broke almost as soon as it was received. Mm-hmm. the check with that. Um, I like your snook, it Pete. But um, for those who were excited to receive it, they are immediately disappointed because they find that they were excited for something that no longer works, that they and doesn't suit their purposes. And for anyone who hears about the donation, they now think that they're sorted. And if that system's not working and not used, it's not their problem. And it makes it harder for other resources to get sent there. Mm-hmm. . So if any equipment gets sent into Africa, we need to make sure that it is usable so that it can be used. Cuz otherwise you're demotivating the researchers themselves and you're removing incentives from funders to put more funding in.

Uh, and that is, and it's on. And the last point is why, why do we always need to be dependent on getting like the oldest of old scraps from the rest of the world? . I mean there, there's enough resource to go around that you can do a lot with the five 10. You can strip it off the scanning head and turn it into a fantastic wide field that is usable for years. And often a wide field is more useful than a convo call. Sure, let's do that. But let's use the researchers using the white field to collect good data so that they can write a grant to get a eight 80 mm-hmm. When they need a convo call . Or at least that's, that's my ambitious, uh, ideal, let's put it that way.

Peter O'Toole (00:50:17):
I think there are other funding models, uh, in the, certainly in the Northern Hemisphere that could be help, that could help what's going on as well. Uh, but that, that would take quite a big mind shift and business change, uh, to the rest of Europe, uh, and to the big companies actually. Uh, but there's discussion there. I've just realized that, talking about being snooker, I've actually got my sneaker cues in my office, which is, it's been so ConEd here in the UK that we've got a small snooker table, not a proper sized sneaker tail. I'm not a, we don't have that big a house in the garage and the queues are so ConEd you can only play for about half a frame before your hands are frozen. So we brought them in so we can play a whole, we have to run in again by son.

William loves playing snooker and it's a really, anyway, that's a complete digression. I have, we've lost Ben for a short while. Cause I think it's a power power out at the moment. Yeah. So I, I have a, a question for both of you, Tom. Good. Well, whether it be a brand new confocal or super bears microscope or even a five 10 coming in, it's a sustainability. That's another concern because these instruments are not cheap. Mm-hmm. to maintain, you know, to service one of these per year is the price of a new car. To put it in some perspective, how do you, how do you forge a sustainable model in the uk we charge users, but the funders are given the users the money to pay the core facility, which enables us to get the, to get those running costs through 50 different users, 50, 60 different grants. It's costing no one a lot of money in the big picture. Uh, and he's making it sustainable. Is this a, is this a, a model that has been, you've been able to develop? Is it a model you like to develop? I, I don't dunno. So

Caron Jacobs (00:52:13):
It's, it's a huge challenge. Um, even in South South Africa where we are relatively well-resourced. Um, we, in a lot of our, um, grants, we are able to write, um, extended maintenance contracts into the budget, uh, which is great as long as they last. And then, um, ongoing maintenance is, is a problem. And we're, the, the odd thing is we are able to write the maintenance costs into a grant. We aren't able to write repair costs into a grant to, to a large extent. And a lot of researchers don't have the freedom to build in user costs. So even though we have a core facility model, a lot of our user costs are kept minimally low and they are by no means a cost recovery or even maintenance system. Uh, because researchers, everyone's clients are too small to, for, for that to be a realistic, it, it, it's something small breaks, you can fix it, but large things, it's an ongoing problem. It's easier to get a new system often. And that's in South Africa. The rest of the, the continents, it's even harder.

Peter O'Toole (00:53:25):
Don't worry about the money getting a new system. My, all, my concern is the long-term costs per, you know, for, for even even in the uk it's not the purchase price. Yeah. It's the running cost to make sure that we don't waste public money. Yeah. At that point. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. But we do have that cost. Oo isn't the same in Nigeria as well.

Mahmound Maina (00:53:44):
. Um, so, uh, you know, the truth is, if I were to break it down to you, uh, the highest grant that one can get, for example, for a, the major grant in Nigeria is about maybe 50 million era. And if you convert 50 million narrow to pounds, that's not up to a hundred thousand pounds.

Peter O'Toole (00:54:07):

Mahmound Maina (00:54:08):
Around And that's a grant

Peter O'Toole (00:54:09):
One $20,000

Mahmound Maina (00:54:11):
Us. Yeah, exactly. So, and that grant is supposed to fund for the research any technician or PhD student and uh, consumers and everything. So in reality, um, for public institutions in Nigeria, how buying a high end equipment like this is even impossible. And therefore if you don't have the funds to buy it, how can you sustain it? In our own situation, we know that this is the major problem that, uh, we, we would have to come to terms with. Uh, but in our own little way, I think, uh, this is why our collaboration with uh, or you know, being part of trend is really, really helpful because at least in the network, and also I think this is also something that being part of AIC would be helpful. What we are trying to capitalize on is people that have experience in using these systems who can, uh, fly to help us fix some small problems.

Uh, you know, that, uh, you know, that we don't have to pay for someone from SSA or somewhere to come and fix it. And then secondly, one of the things that we are doing is to increase, uh, capacity in open hardware. So in, if we using this approach, what we're trying to do is to get our technicians, for example, to know how to, let's say 3D print some, you know, some parts if there's any problem to fix that. And also to troubleshoot, if you see what I mean, some of the systems. So that small concerns can be managed internally. But we do know that if there is any major problem, we have to now find someone to fix it. Whether we have a solution for that now we don't really know, but at least in our institution at the moment, we have a dedicated amount of money given to buy RTC per a year for maintenance of equipment or whatever. So what we may end up doing is that if there's any major problem, we may have to say, Hey Abic, can we discuss with, let's say Zes to see if they can, this equipment is not under maintenance by them, but can we come to a small arrangement where we can pay for this to be serviced by them? I think these are the kind of discussions that we may have to have.

Peter O'Toole (00:56:28):
Okay. And you know, I, I think the solutions are different probably for the different regions within Africa even, uh, be because the, the economies, if I look at Nigeria, we look at South Africa, even there the economies are very different mm-hmm. . Uh, and it's really, I think championing back to the importance of scientific funding back to governments. I think that, that, that's a key point. But I think it's important to, to get to, to infiltrate into government and it has to be into government. Yeah. Then to understand the importance of the infrastructure, to enable the researchers to develop to the cutting gauge, they need access to the cutting gauge applications. Ics beautiful I think in this case, cuz you can send researchers prove that what they can do with it, but then they need, it's that sustainability that will enable it to grow without the sustainability.

You'll get essentially big bangs and then big busts at the end of it, you'll get your microscope, you'll have five years cause you get that extended life and then it's gone again in five years. You can't fix it. And that's, it's, it's really painful to, to see that waste, I think. Oh, it's so frustrating, isn't it? But I think the funders Yeah. Have to realize if you're going to build infrastructure, you have to put a sustainable cost model behind it. And I think by building a sustainable cost model and cost recovery, it discourages people buying their own, getting their own big end instruments that aren't gonna be well used.

Mahmound Maina (00:58:02):
Yeah, absolutely.

Peter O'Toole (00:58:03):
Money's gonna be where the most impact is being delivered and is being supported. Uh, so why it's such a difficult

Mahmound Maina (00:58:12):
Task. It's, I mean, I mean, uh, you know, just going back to that issue, I think for us even the recovery is an issue because the Nigerian era, for example, is weak. So if for example, you charge, we charge, you know, the intention is to charge users, but even if you charge, it's not gonna be enough to be able to cut up for that. But I think one key thing that you mentioned, which is really relevant is, uh, you know, getting in a conversation with the government. So this is something that in btc, we've been, uh, having, uh, uh, you know, with the government to get them to understand what we are doing and to have their support. And because of that, we have worked very closely with the teaching hospital, university, university, and there is a lot of interest in collaboration and for all for the, for our government, it's important for them to see that whatever, whatever they're trying to do has the, uh, the relevance to their interest.

And that in our, in their own case is does it have impact on healthcare delivery? How does it help in solving this and that. So our collaboration with the hospital is helping, and I think it is because of that we are getting some of the support we are getting. We could do research on malaria. There are issues around kidney diseases. There are a lot of different things that the state is interested in. And with our facility, they see that we could be able to provide the platform to allow that. But one key thing eventually that will be needed is to have the researchers with the, with the fantastic questions that'll be able to now do the research to immediately see, show the government the impact of that, those research for them to continue supporting us.

Peter O'Toole (00:59:50):
And Kevin, you wanted to come in as well?

Caron Jacobs (00:59:52):
Yeah. Um, a few things, uh, Peter, you're, you're correct in terms of, um, there are challenges and then they vary across region in terms of funding. Um, uh, Ben would able be able to comment more sort of on the south . Oh, here he's, yeah. , welcome back then. Just quickly,

Peter O'Toole (01:00:15):
Sustainability. Oh, yeah. And all good. And well, having an instrument, how'd you recover the service contracts, the maintenance cost of these going forward? So Kevin, back to you, sir. Yeah,

Caron Jacobs (01:00:26):
I, I was just touching on, uh, we are quite fortunate here in that there, there's, uh, a fair amount of government funding available for this sort of thing. Uh, not as much as we would like, but there is government funding and a lot of the African regions, there isn't any significant government funding for research. And the largest grants are coming from charities like Welcome, trust, bull, Melinda Gates Foundation, and then like the N I H or the, um, German government or EU funding. So it, it also means that, um, research grant applications there are written with what in, with the focus of what's important to those different funders. And often it's with, keep in mind of what sort of a African needs. But it means that any advocacy that needs to be done in approaching funders and not sort of peeking from the perspective of abic, that's one of the reasons why, um, our focus in abic is on the community as opposed to finding ways that we can address all these different needs, um, is that getting the community together means that we can advocate to both the international funders and charities as well as all of the different governments.

Um, and that's going to have to be targeted different strategies in each region. But it's because of everything that you say, um, and sort of introducing these different models and just educating people on the type, the different types of models out there in terms of full cost recovery is not an option, but there are ways that you can get, um, some, some funds back to cover some of the cost of, of running this equipment. Because full cost recovery, even in South Africa is not, it's not feasible right now.

Peter O'Toole (01:02:13):
I I I, I'm just enjoying this. For those who are listening, you'll have no appreciation of this, but it, it's like one pops off. So Ben disappeared, come back after his pack up. OU now had to leave, so he'll be back hopefully in a few minutes. Uh, but I realized we were also probably running up close to the hour mark as well. And this has gone way, way, way, way too fast. Uh, I was also, and I want, Mamou can listen to this back, can't he? Uh, sustainability. Do you ever invite, so AVIC is for, you've got these bursaries for notfor profit, but do you,

Caron Jacobs (01:02:48):
You're talking about for the imaging center or the community, the imaging center, they're, they're, they're separate

Peter O'Toole (01:02:54):
The bursaries into the imaging center.

Caron Jacobs (01:02:56):

Peter O'Toole (01:02:56):
You, I and you yourself Ben as well, the south, uh, south African bioengineer, do you allow industrial commercial users to use your microscopes? And if you do, do you charge then an uplift a profit on that, which would help offset some of those running costs?

Caron Jacobs (01:03:13):
Um, uh, because Ben's recently returned. I'll let him answer first

Ben Loos (01:03:18):
Sure. Answer first. Sure. So that's welcome to load chatting South Africa . Um, so of course the sustainability is a massive issue. And, and the, and the, it's so multifaceted. Our, our university is not a good representation, but main challenges are equipment is alright, funded through the state and co-funding from the university. That is a good system that we have. And there is funding for a service contract five years, which is also very good. Yeah.

Peter O'Toole (01:03:49):
That's the end of that.

Ben Loos (01:03:51):
But no staff, no staffing and no, no, um, kind of, uh, you know, minimum requirement for applicable staff and hence you have institutions where there's no staff, even if there is maybe some on paper or there's a POSTOC for a year. So these are the challenges. And then that there is no prescribed, um, business model.

Caron Jacobs (01:04:13):
Yeah, that's an excellent point.

Ben Loos (01:04:15):
We have a very strong business model. We, we must be cost effective. We must cover even the, our own salaries, which is incredibly tough because the PIs grants are so minute, Pete. Yeah, they are. So minute. They are like, and I reviewed the applications, you know, of my colleagues in the uk. They are like 5% of the UK grant. So, so sustainability is a question that we have to unpack with the government, uh, you know, to, for me it is we need so funding support for staff scientists.

Caron Jacobs (01:04:53):
Yeah. And

Ben Loos (01:04:53):
I know

Caron Jacobs (01:04:54):
That also speaks to sort of the, it speaks to the need for support for South Africa Bioimaging itself actually there's absolutely the lack of support comes from the same Yeah. Like root problem. Yeah.

Peter O'Toole (01:05:06):
And you're right Ben. So actually I, I meant to recover my salary, um, and my technician's salary. So our instruments don't come with a technician. Yeah. But we, but the, but the granting system is such that the staff cost put on it can, can cover the technical support, help as well as the depreciate as well as the service contract prices. So the sustainability is, and of course we'll have 40, 50 different grants all pay and getting bits of money that pay for the technicians that, that pay for the technical experts that pay for the service, the maintenance, the, the replacement lenses. You know, I, I, again, if you're listening or watching and you don't know the price of a lens and, and, and standard quality or good quality I guess. But the standard, uh, in the market oil immersion lenses is probably 8,000 US dollars, 6,000 pounds.

Ben Loos (01:06:00):
It's the, the in addition to that, you see, like our university, we have strong PIs, you know, that bring in good grants, but we are 10% of the country's university that it's a handful of, you know, really. And so hence the other, the other institutions, it's challenging to bring in the funds even for the upkeep of the utilization. So it is a really big challenge that that, and hence it's so good that we are connected to global bioimaging and that we are starting with that engagement where we've seen what works, what doesn't work. We are not alone. And you know, and there is a an avenue for it.

Peter O'Toole (01:06:43):
Yeah. And trace. So, uh, we, speaking from a position of such luxury, uh, here, yeah, we, we started with cost models that weren't sustainable and it became sustainable, but the government and the funders had the money to enable it to be sustainable. They, they moved the money into those grant pots to put the money where it's being used. But there's a money there to start with, which I think is a fundamental difference, uh, which really be appreciated. So this, and do you have commercial users or would you entertain commercial users if that enabled you to do sustain the instruments for the not-for-profit researchers?

Caron Jacobs (01:07:24):
Yeah, so I, I was gonna say this, um, Ben, I think your facility has a different experience, but from our side, because, because I can kind of speak for two facilities, our internal facility would be accessible to commercial users and would be happy to charge them a, uh, commercial rate. Um, but bio, um, bio research in terms of from an in industry perspective in South Africa is not a huge industry. Yeah, yeah. It's, it's slowly growing. Um, but at this rate, it, it, it's not a large market that we can say, oh yes, we've got five indu industry customers that come in a few times a year. Like it's, it's not a thing, it it at all. Uh, there are currently a handful of startups that I'm aware of. Um, so do you know what,

Peter O'Toole (01:08:12):
Put yourself at the center of that, that development of the industry? Yeah. Explain how important the infrastructure is to these companies. Cuz these companies can't afford to build the infrastructure themselves to develop. You've got small startups if they can get access to your facilities, actually from a governmental perspective, by modeling, getting, shaping it in that way helps the companies, which helps build the industrial in income, helps you, helps them, helps put the taxis back, and then hopefully put yourselves at the center.

Caron Jacobs (01:08:44):
Yeah. But Ben, Ben, do you have much commercial uses coming in? So

Ben Loos (01:08:50):
On the light microscopy hard and we've tried really, really hard to reach out there as well once a while maybe in the, with, with farming to look at seeds or something, but it's so limited. Uh, so, but our ems our ems, uh, are heavily benefiting it's luck in a way that we have through the e dx quantitative mapping, uh, strong, you know, good industry clients, long standing. But that is, that is, um, you know, that doesn't fuel into a light microscopy of confocal based system. So Yeah. And then the other issue is, of course, Peter, if I think of, you know, startups like let's say cytotoxicity screening or you know, those kind of, then, then you of course need to have the particular ISO accreditation. And so it's a whole different setup that we are also poorly equipped.

Peter O'Toole (01:09:48):
Right. Yeah. For research you don't need the iso, it's fine. Yeah. not service, it's just, we'll talk after. Cuz again, I'll give you some ideas of where we've been got the materials industry, uh, using, uh, the light microscopes. They often don't realize what it can give them. And quite often it's can be better than what they, what they were seeking. Because if we go right back to the start of this podcast, you talked about how a lot of people in Nigeria especially, we think about light microscopes before electron microscopes. And yet in the UK we teach electron microscopy at A levels, uh, 16 to 18 year olds. But we don't teach confocal microscopy. Mm-hmm. And yet what is a technique that is most used in the life science over those two applications. So it shows how is an educational at that

Caron Jacobs (01:10:35):
Point, I'm amazed at you, you're teaching electron microscopy to high school students. I don't think we are.

Peter O'Toole (01:10:41):
Yeah, no, they, they, when they come, they all want to see the electron microscopes, how the samples are prepped. Teachers are buzzed because they like to see that engagement.

Caron Jacobs (01:10:50):

Peter O'Toole (01:10:52):
Schools will bus in and see that equipment and then we showed 'em the confocals and they're like, what is this? I can actually see mitochondria moving around the living cell. So it's, it's really nice to show that everything is, that the curriculum is also changing, but it's obviously a very slow moving cause you have to be, it has to be mature technology before it's probably worth getting into the Yeah, we are way over the hour mark. I, and I was hoping Mahmud might make it back in Oh, the timing as if said hops back in. So we're over the hour, but I have to ask, so this is com quick answers now. So I think it'd be really cool. First off, who are your inspirations? And I'm gonna start with Mahmoud because you've just popped up, you've had loads of time. So Mahmoud, quick answer. Who's, who's been inspiring in your life? Quick one word answers.

Mahmound Maina (01:11:43):
Uh, professor Marte, he is, uh, an Nigerian scientist who used to be in the United States, uh, for years. And then, uh, he realized that there is a lot that needs to be done back in Africa. He returned back to Nigeria in 2010 to establish his group. Despite the challenges that we have, he has been a major inspiration for me.

Peter O'Toole (01:12:04):
Okay. I I, I'm looking at the other two faces on the screen and Charleston, you need to watch it because they are looking, they are scrambling around thinking, oh God, who am I gonna pick? It's, I'm gonna go to Ben first to give Kevin a bit longer cuz Kevin, you got the first question earlier.

Ben Loos (01:12:17):
. So my wife, so Karen first.

Peter O'Toole (01:12:21):
No, no, no, no, no. You Ben.

Ben Loos (01:12:23):
So, so Pete, my wife would probably say, I have too many heroes. So, so you know, it depends which category. I think, um, in, in the sciences, I might feel the cell death and autophagy, uh, there is, uh, Richard Lockin who term program cell death. So

Peter O'Toole (01:12:40):
You been dying to say that?

Ben Loos (01:12:42):
Sorry? Have

Peter O'Toole (01:12:43):
You been dying to say cell death and auto Sorry, go on

Ben Loos (01:12:47):
. Yes, but you know, why pe why he is, uh, an inspiration because he, he speaks of you need to understand the cell as it is sick and you know, as it is progressing. And when I visualize that through life cell imaging, mitochondrial dynamics, you know, I've understood it. So that is kind of really, you know, spoke to me very, very strongly. But I have many other people I look up to in the different fields, but maybe that would be one.

Peter O'Toole (01:13:15):
Okay. Ben, thank you. And Calvin, now you've had longer than anyone.

Caron Jacobs (01:13:21):
I'm, I'm gonna take a bit of a cop out because I'm, I'm going to resist naming. Well I'll, I'll name a few people. Um, I think so much to Ben. I, I I I wouldn't call them heroes, but I am often inspired by the people that I work with. Um, and I have had the good fortune of working with some amazing people o over the years. So a few of them, you know, um, I've worked with Ricardo Henrich and, um, Sean Ley and up and um, Pedro March, uh, from her's lab who are remain good friends and are always amazing and supportive to me. I currently work with, uh, Dick b Warner here at the University of Cape Town and Michael Rahi who just are, um, fantastic. Uh, chu from the, the a i c uh, so sort of the, the work ethics, the, the perseverance, the focus, and also just the ability to, the opportunity it's given me to work with really good people.

Um, I, to name another one, uh, Janine Scofield, who's, who's f fantastic. She's a South African, um, stem cell researcher who, who's great. Um, in terms of the, the space that sort of we've been discussing today, um, a lot of my sort of inspiration and sort of guiding stars actually come from a lot of discussions with, uh, with my husband who's a clinician researcher and um, has his own experiences in um, inequalities in in research space. And a lot of the dialogue that happens these days in terms of social justice. I'm very conscious that I am a white South African that grew up with an incredible amount of privilege, um, to just sort of have the opportunity to be a fly on the wall for a lot of the conversations that happen around, um, building equity, building capacity and social justice that are happening around the world at the moment. I've been able to learn a lot from that and I try and feed that into everything that we're currently doing. So I'm going to avoid naming names there because often they're names of Twitter on Twitter. But, um, I'd go that that's my my cop up that I just sort of, I think priority people that

Peter O'Toole (01:15:36):
I don't think you cop mentioned your husband as your inspiration and these other two didn't mention their wi is their inspiration. . I talk to my wife, but no, he didn't say my wife. Trust me, you're in a lot of my wife after this. You wanna put us in trouble?

Caron Jacobs (01:15:53):
Yeah. See, I, I have the benefit of not having kids so I can point to him and I don't have to point to the whole family.

Peter O'Toole (01:16:03):
I, I was gonna say, I, I think, you know what, I think we should do this again in a year's time cuz it'd be really interesting to see where it's got to. Uh, we are outta time. I'm very conscious of that. Uh, it'd be really good to see a, where you want to be in 10 years time, B where you would like, where, where I, I think it'd be different where you would like to get to in 10 years time, where you think you will get to in 10 years time and why you won't have got to where you want to get to. What would, what, what would be those fundamental difficulties? And do you know what I'm gonna ask Le leave this one last question. What is it that's gonna prevent you getting to what you would ideally like in 10 years time? Uh, really, really brief cuz we are outta time and I'm gonna st sorry Karen, but you are, you had most time last time, but over so very, very quickly.

Caron Jacobs (01:16:55):
I think my, my my knee-jerk react reaction to that question is gonna be bureaucracy and paperwork. .

Peter O'Toole (01:17:01):
I love it. You obviously, and I'll

Caron Jacobs (01:17:02):
Leave it at that. Yep. Ben,

Ben Loos (01:17:05):
What would prevent me? It could be only me, uh, but, and that's very unlikely , so. Okay.

Peter O'Toole (01:17:15):
And Maud,

Mahmound Maina (01:17:16):
Uh, for me it has to be funding, you know, , um, for what we do in, uh, in bart. See funding is critical for what I do here in the UK for my research. Funding is critical. I think funding is the major thing. So how a wish, you know, uh, we can have that, uh, wish that can come true and that would be, you know, to have unlimited funds to do whatever we're going to do.

Peter O'Toole (01:17:37):
Well let, let, let's see what can happen in the next few years. I think that's a really good focus. Uh, I think you brought out three good things is to remove the bureaucracy, is to make sure you remain motivated and find those funding avenues to develop bio research. And it's not just microscopy at that point, you know, it's all good and well try to find money to fund microscopes. I think funding, bio research, then the microscopes come with it as well. And the researchers, that's what they need more than anything and that's what your instruments need to develop it. Mm-hmm. . Hey, I, I'm really sorry for the viewers, listeners, we maybe have gone way, way, way over. Uh, but utterly, brilliantly. Karen, Ben Mamood, thank you so much for joining me on the Microscopies Today. You've heard about Leon, you've heard about Lucy Collinson today and others. Uh, so please go listen to the other podcast. But everyone, thank you so much for joining me today and I wish you the very best of luck and I'll be there to help.

Mahmound Maina (01:18:36):
Thank you so much, Pete. See you. Thank you. Thank

Intro/Outro (01:18:39):
You for listening to the Microscopists, a bite-sized bio podcast sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. To view all audio and video recordings from this series, please visit bitesize

Creators and Guests

Dr Caron Jacobs
Dr Caron Jacobs
CZI Imaging Scientist @UCTIDM. Imaging, host-path interactions 🔬🧫🧬🦠Driving microscopy research in Africa with @afribioimaging and @AMI_microscopy🌍 She/her
Mahmoud Bukar Maina
Mahmoud Bukar Maina
@alzassociation Fellow🔎 #Alzheimer @SussexNeuro|Special Adviser for #Science for #Yobe State Govt |@TReNDinAfrica|Founder @BioRTCNig @SciComNigeria
Mahmoud Maina (BioRTC), Ben Loos (SABI), and Caron Jacobs (ABIC)