How YABATECH Research Team Plans to Help Improve Prostate Cancer Patients’ Quality of Life

How YABATECH Research Team Plans to Help Improve Prostate Cancer Patients’ Quality of Life

The Yaba College of Technology research team, currently working on the treatment of prostate cancer, having won a grant of N34 million issued by the National Research Fund of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, explained to Funmi Ogundare in this interview that they are set to hit the ground running to impact humanity and improve quality of life, especially for prostate cancer patients

 Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer affecting males, and researchers are looking at newer forms of treatment through concerted efforts to prevent, detect, treat and stem the scourge. Some of the researchers are the Yaba College of Technology team, who recently won a grant award of N34 million from the National Research Fund ( NRF) of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund ( TETfund). The team include experts in Computer Engineering, Medical Biochemistry, Oncology, Pathology, Zoology, Pharmacognosy and Ethnopharmacy, Toxicology, and Pharmacology from Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, University of Lagos, and other co-researchers from the college.

They will have access to biopsy samples from consenting prostate cancer patients in Nigeria, which has one of the highest prostate cancer rates in the world.

The research work titled ‘Artificial Intelligence-base Drip Combination Prediction and Ex vivo Screening against Prostrate Cancer: Biopsy for Individualised Treatment’ will enable them to develop an Artificial Intelligence-based precision Medicine solution for prostate cancer treatment that can potentially improve outcomes significantly for patients in Nigeria and the world.

The Principal Investigator (PI), Mrs. Aishat Oluwatosin Amolegbe of the Department of Biological Science, YABATECH, explained how they were able to achieve the feat, saying that it took a lot of effort and time bringing everybody together to achieve their planned objectives.  

“When the idea came, I sat with my boss and we looked at how we can solve the problem on prostate cancer and also thought of those to involve in the research work and fill a gap,” Amolegbe. “That meant we had to bring in people from different institutions and contacted those from the University of Lagos, Akoka, and those in Usman Danfodio University because we had signed a memorandum of understanding with them to achieve our stated objectives.

She added, “We created a WhatsApp group and scheduled meetings after the close of work. This went on for almost three or four months. It wasn’t an easy task at all, but because of the support I got from every member of the team, it made the work easy for me.”

After that aspect, she stated that submission of the work to the National Research Fund (NRF) also became an issue. 

“We left the college around 9 P.M because uploading it was a challenge. My boss was always guiding and supporting me on what to do, and sometimes I cried. At the long run, they sent us a mail inviting us for an interview, I had to rush back to Lagos from where I travelled to. I hardly slept. I was told that I would be doing the presentation alone rather than with my team members, and I needed to understand the aspect of artificial intelligence. During the interview stage, I was made to face seven professors to defend how we are going utilise the fund.”

The PI emphasised the importance of having a mindset of learning and putting in extra effort rather than just thinking about the money that goes with it, adding that the process of winning a grant is not a -day job.

“TETFund is coming back to verify what we are using the money for, so it is about putting in more work,” she stated.

Asked how it is expected to impact the health sector, Amolegbe explained that cancer patients are usually treated based on the drugs available and therapy, but generating a treatment drug based on individual genetic makeup first will go a long way.

She also emphasised the importance of artificial intelligence in medicine, saying that no one has done that before and that creating a large database would make the work easier and ensure an effective outcome.

“It will be beneficial to the health sector because cancer is rampant and it’s affecting the male and female folks. With this work, we will be able to treat each patient based on their genetic make-up and data rather than just a general treatment.”

However, she expressed concern about some of the research challenges, including lack of funding, poor infrastructure, and staff’s nonchalant attitude, which could impact the work negatively.

“If there is enough funding, research will move higher. Thank God that TETfund was able to move in through funding and supported the initiative, which made it better because we are trying to solve a problem,” stated Amolegbe. “Another challenge is infrastructure because if you want to carry out research and you don’t have a standard laboratory or state-of-the-art laboratory, it can affect your work negatively. 

Amolegbe stressed the need for the government to support research work, adding that a lot of research is currently going on at the college.

“For instance, the Institutional Based Research ( IBR) firm is another body that supports research,” she added. “People usually have a nonchalant attitude towards research, but now that organisations are supportive, people are eager to do it because they have the idea that they can showcase, and so they can get funds from those bodies like IBR or TETFund or any other that can support their initiatives.”

Another member of the team and a computer engineer in the college, Mr Adebayo Adebari, stated that the same drug had been used for different people in cancer treatment, and since they have different genetic make-up, technology will be deployed to collect their data. 

“The normal computer programming cannot do it as it involves a lot of data,” he said, adding that collecting data from different people will require artificial intelligence.

“What Artificial Intelligence will do, aside from identifying cancer, will be able to project if somebody will have cancer and possibly proffer the drugs that will be used to treat the person. It will be able to indicate the quantity of drugs that will be used to treat the person. We are looking for a total solution to the type of cancer somebody will have, which will be different from that of another person. Whatever stage the person is, they should be able to identify it and proffer a solution.”

He emphasised the MoU the college signed with Usman Danfodio University, saying it will work with pharmacists and oncologists to collect data, predict and arrive at a solution.

Asked how the government can help subsidise the treatment for patients since the treatment is expensive, Adebari stated, “The treatment of cancer is expensive in Nigeria. Yes, we know the drugs are also very expensive, but again, are they effective? The government should encourage us in the research work. The amount that the government is putting into the area of research is still very low. TETfund is trying. What they are giving us is just to support it. 

“In Yabatech alone, we have a lot of researchers. TETfund money is coming from the private sector, but not enough is coming from the government directly. We need to get data from everywhere because we are looking at the amount which looks substantial, but it is still not enough for this project as our target is still far more than that. We are trying to work within the available funds, and we still need to prove to TETfund how we are going to spend it. We are doing the project in stages to identify and proffer solutions.”

He stated that part of the variables the team will be considering for the scourge is the environment, which may be a problem, the lifestyle of the person and whether he smokes or takes alcohol. 

The acting director in charge of Support, Research and Management, Dr Funmilayo Doherty, emphasised the collaboration between Usman Danfodio University and the college, saying that they have a teaching hospital and can carry out these tests with their large number of patients. 

“We are working with doctors and pharmacologists who will help us collect data from as many as 2,000 people. That is where the AI comes in. AI will help us predict their genetic makeup. At the teaching hospital, they will collect samples from those who have cancer,” Doherty explained. “We will take it to the lab and culture it. All these things need special laboratory equipment to culture it. Afterwards, we will now expose them to different drugs.”

Asked whether she sees Nigeria kicking out cancer with the collaboration, she said, “It is a gradual process. We are just starting. Once we get our results, if there is a need to carry out more studies, we will fine-tune it because we have limited funds. We will get our results and outcomes and see that we still need to go further. 

“Another thing we are thinking of is that the genetic make-up of people may be different, so we will need to get data from as many people as possible, do our research to identify their peculiarities and know the best drugs to use for a particular kind of people.”

So far, Doherty stated that students of the Science Laboratory Technology ( SLT), biological science, and engineering departments have been helping out in the research work while learning in the process and gaining more knowledge about the true cause of cancer.

 She, however, expressed concern that staff have a lukewarm attitude towards research, saying that the new administration is taking the sensitisation on writing grant proposals seriously and that the innovation will awaken them.

“The hard work that goes into it is not easy. We are trying to create awareness in Yabatech, and by next year, we want to target 10 researchers getting the grant. We have 29 researchers who have gotten the IBR grant. This is the first time that we have gotten that large number. We want people to understand that it is real if you write a good grant proposal. We have also carried out a lot of training for them to know how to write proposals,” the acting director stated.

The Rector of the college, Dr. Ibraheem Abdul, explained that the innovation is expected to provide personalised treatment recommendations which can significantly improve the quality of life for prostate cancer patients and, by tailoring therapies to individual patient profiles, may lead to better treatment responses, reduced side effects, and prolonged survival rates. 

“Patients and healthcare providers will benefit from a more informed decision-making process. They will have a clearer understanding of their treatment options, leading to more active participation in their care,” stated Abdul. “The project can contribute to reducing healthcare disparities by ensuring that all patients, regardless of demographic or geographic factors, have access to state-of-the-art personalised treatments.”

He stressed the need for increased funding that will enable governments, private sector entities, and international organisations to prioritise investment in research and development, allocating sufficient funds to support diverse research initiatives across various fields, adding that investment in research infrastructure, such as laboratory facilities, libraries, and digital infrastructure, is crucial for enabling high-quality research outcomes.

He noted that Other ways to address research challenges include talent retention and development, policy reforms and promoting collaboration.

“Initiatives such as research clusters, joint projects, and technology transfer programs can facilitate collaboration and knowledge exchange. By addressing these challenges and implementing appropriate strategies, Nigeria can unlock its research potential and contribute meaningfully to global knowledge creation and innovation,” Abdul added.

Related Articles