A Day in The Life: Dr. Akosua Khenyatta Oginga Quansah
Chief Biological Engineer, African Institute for Biomedical, Biological & Genomics Engineering
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Do you wonder what a Biological Engineer does with their day? SIXTY-THREE sat down with Dr. Akosua Khenyatta Oginga Quansah, who is Chief Biological Engineer at AFRIBIOGEN in Accra to find out.
What drew you to biological engineering research and the African Institute for Biomedical, Biological & Genomics Engineering (AFRIBIOGEN)?
As a child, I thought I wanted to be a doctor or an engineer following after my mother and father, so I ended up studying biomedical engineering to follow them both. In 2020, COVID hit, and all the talk was about testing the vaccine in Africa. It really bothered me, that the West still saw African people as guinea pigs, so when I graduated in 2021, I decided to focus my doctoral research at the interface of biomedical and biological engineering in the USA. I went on to do postdoctoral research at one of the top genome research centers in the UK which changed the trajectory of my life. In the UK I got involved in the SMART Health Futures Collaboratory that led to the formation of the African Commonwealth Health Trust and establishment of the AFRIBIOGEN Institutes.
What do you like most about being Chief Biological Engineer at AFRIBIOGEN?
I like that my work enables the human security of Africa because I have the opportunity to work with the continental ecosystem of world-class scientists that includes genome engineers, machine learning experts, neuroscientists, bio-pharmacologists, data scientists and others needed to address the complex of research, innovation, product design and development we do to stay ahead of the ever-evolving pathogens in the virosphere.
Can you walk us through a typical day for you?
Usually, my work day doesn’t start until I’ve finished a round of exercise on the IRREAL Sports VR Platform or with the Community Dance Breakfast Club, and Protein Shake at 8AM. That’s my normal ritual of getting into “the zone” for the rush of the day. I have to say the last three days have been a bit different, because as you know we are watching an impending dust storm, so, I have been pulling some all-nighters. I also try to maintain a breakfast meeting with my three teenagers, before jumping in a Go-Cart to the main building. I live on the company estate of 1500 acres, so commute is easy.
Once in the office, a typical day begins with holo-sync meetings with the continental leadership team to discuss the overnight feed from ABREWA, our AI research scientist. Her analysis from our 8 research institutes also combs through data collected on air quality to look for early warnings of any pathogens, toxicants and viruses. ABREWA also maintains a watch on our continental water ways. We do a quick crosscheck to look at any anomalies and discuss strategic goals for AU Agenda 2063. I also do any meetings with the Pacific at that time.
Around mid-morning, I tackle my personal research. Currently, I am designing a personal appliance to reduce impact of EMF spillover on humans, as well as reverse some of the cell damage we have been seeing. But this week I have had to switch focus on a treatment for a fungus that is threatening some herbs we use for viral treatments. We have been racing against the clock because of the impending dust storm which the Africa Weather Watch has stated will be a Category 10. It has been a few sleepless nights even though ABREWA has thankfully relieved my team of the grind of data processing.
Most days you find me working through or doing late lunches. I usually eat real food. I serve as West African Representative on the Technical Working Group for ISO Biomedical Engineering Standards; Member, Committee for Space Biology for AU Space Agency; and Co-Chair, African Global Health Security Initiative – so I have a lot of international meetings with our partners in Europe, India and Asia.
During the afternoons, I take meetings with staff, and external local stakeholders. Most days, I leave the office around 5PM.
Your work-day seems quite hectic. How do you manage work-life balance?
I reserve evenings for family, friends and community. I am an avid gardener and drummer/griot, so my evenings are split between those hobbies, time with my teenagers, and date night. Tonight, date night is special as I have tickets for the BOB MARLEY CENTENNARY CONCERT in the Reggae Hall of Fame in the ZOETIX HoloTron – my first Metaverse Concert. I am looking forward to attending a Bob Marley Concert Live! Ziggy, Stephen, Damian, and the grandchildren will be making cameos. Usually, I am in bed by 11PM, after a 20-minute session working with the Ancestors.
Where can you see biological engineering research at AFRIBIOGEN heading in the future?
Besides our eight Institutes, we have field labs in over 300 cities across Africa, where through our personalized medicine kiosks we collect data from 100million customer/patients, thus improving ABREWA. By 2050, we hope to triple our capacity, and expand our capacity to treat chronic illnesses like diabetes. Securing regulation of AGI for healthcare is a challenging task but we have added training games to our E-Learning platforms so that all ecosystem stakeholders can learn more about the algorithms and what they can and can’t do; and accelerate approval process for health care algorithms through the AU Health Office.
What impact do you want to have on the world?
I am living my purpose here. I want to expand the capacity of AFRIBIOGEN to do more work in space biology as the AU has signed global agreement on Human Settlement on Mars. I find that very exciting. I believe that what I do at AFRIBIOGEN will help eliminate or find a cure for many of the diseases that are incurable now. I feel like I’m helping create a healthier future for all Africans and the world. That will be my legacy.
Copyright 2022 Dr. Claire Nelson. All Rights Reserved.