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Prof Omolo: IT expert turned pharmacist

Health & Science
 Prof Calvin Andeve Omolo. [File, Standard]

Prof Calvin Andeve Omolo's journey to becoming a doctor began in a small village in Vihiga, walking barefoot to school and eventually wearing his first pair of shoes in Class Seven.

Were it not for his elder brother, he would not have seen a different world other than that of computers that he would easily assemble while in Form Two.

You see, his brother introduced him to computers and IT while in secondary school, a passion that took him took him to Tanzania where his career in medicine begun.

Although he performed well in primary school, his brother, who was in Highway Secondary School in Nairobi used his contacts to secure him a chance but paying school fees was a challenge.

He was often sent home when disbursement of bursary delayed until one time, a teacher who noticed his potential devised a way to keep him in school.

“My teacher would tell me, the principal is sending people home for fees, go and hide in the toilets and come back after he leaves, and that is how I managed to go through my secondary education," he says.

Prof Omolo cleared the school fees balance after working briefly in Tanzania before he secured his secondary certificate for enrollment at the university.

He had never aspired to study medicine, but when he went to set up software at a pharmacy in Tanzania, he realized he could easily understand the prescription of drugs and the proprietor suggested that he studies pharmacy.

So, he applied to study medicine in a university in Tanzania and used the money he received from installing the software to pay for his first degree in Pharmacy.

He went through campus courtesy of scholarships which also catered for his Masters and PhD.

“One of my lecturers told me he had seen great potential in me and would link me up with someone who has a laboratory, equipment and funding to work with,” he says.

That was how Prof Omolo found himself at KwaZulu-Natal University in South Africa, where he enrolled for Masters in Pharmaceutics.

He went to South Africa at the height of Xenophobia, and his name Andeve and his physique saved him because everyone thought he was Zulu.

“I quickly fit into their society and made friends with them and that is how I survived. I also understood why they were doing what they were doing and never crossed them,” he says.

Prof Omolo worked as a laboratory technician and part-time lecturer while undertaking his Masters degree.

He researched on nanomedicine and after completing his studies, his lecturer and mentor asked him to apply for PhD and he got a scholarship.

On completion, he came back to Kenya where he is now an Associate Professor at The United States International University-Africa Kenya and also the Principal Investigator at the Novel Drug Delivery Unit and co-investigator and collaborator in the Synthetic and Medicinal Chemistry Research Groups at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

He is working on a research project focusing on making and programming nanomedicines ftargeting specific disease sites in the body as well as troubleshooting complex drug solubility-related research to improve drug bioavailability, bioactivity, biocompatibility, targeted delivery, and immunity priming and training.

Prof Omolo explains that these delivery systems are employed in the treatment of various communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Nanotechnology involves manipulating material at a molecular level and the application of materials at a nanoscale whereby nanomedicine is the application of this technology in medicine.

A nanoscale refers to a measure or a dimension at one billion of a meter, that is, a metre divided by a billion, for instance, taking the thickness of the human hair and dividing it one hundred thousand times will be too small to be seen by a normal microscope.

He says that some of the benefits of nanomedicine include accelerated healing where one can stimulate the body to heal a wound faster, the use of synthetic heart or synthetic tissue, stem cells, and precision medicine, targeting specific areas where one has the infection thus preventing side effects of drugs.

“Nanomedicine can form system-release drugs which reduce the number of times the drugs are taken, for example in amoxicillin, some people will take a five-day dose maybe twice or thrice and forget, pick it after a day and continue taking and this is what leads to antimicrobial resistance, so in nanomedicine, we can reduce the pill burden.”

According to research, this will be possible by depositing the active pharmaceutical agent in the morbid region only and in no higher dose than needed.

Prof Omolo says although nanotechnology and nanomedicine are relatively expensive at the moment, more experts are coming into the field with more research work coming up.

“There are few laboratories doing nanotechnology in Kenya with few experts in it due to the funding issue, but there is hope that more experts will continue venturing into it.”

Apart from his lab work and time spent in academia, Prof Omolo finds time to spend with his family, saying he has learned the art of work-life balance to avoid burnout.

He goes for road trips with his family, catching up with his friends and also mentoring students, saying he would not wish to remain with the title of being the first person to have a degree in his family, the first person to have a masters in his village and the only professor in his community.

“Everything is a cycle of life, I am where I am today because a lot of people believed in me and assisted me to move forward, and in that cycle, I need to transfer the knowledge to others and help them follow their passion.”  

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