Health sciences graduand Fredrick Omondi in the HIV Research lab at the Kenya Medical Research Institute's Centre for Global Health Research, Kisumu Clinical Research Site in Kismumu, Western Kenya, where he now works.

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Master’s research reveals important finding for creating new HIV treatment strategies

June 10, 2019
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By Clement Woo

When Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Diamond Jubilee Scholar Fredrick Omondi graduates in June, he will fulfill his dream of completing a master’s degree while also contributing to innovative HIV/AIDS research.

Omondi developed an interest in HIV research while honing his technical and analytical research skills under the mentorship of senior supervisor Zabrina Brumme in the Faculty of Health Sciences. His research focused on understanding how suppressed HIV-infected cells, known collectively as the HIV reservoir, are able to evade medication.

He discovered that certain HIV subtypes have larger HIV reservoirs due to a more functional version of an HIV gene called “nef.” This important finding could lead to new therapeutic and vaccine design strategies for eliminating or preventing these viral reservoirs from forming, which could ultimately result in a cure for HIV.

Omondi’s academic journey has been unconventional. Growing up in Kenya, he was always interested in science. During high school, he fell in love with biology and chemistry and went on to complete a BSc in biochemistry at Moi University, with hopes of a career in biomedical research.

However, he found it challenging to find a job related to his studies after graduating from university, a common issue for young educated adults in Kenya. Coincidentally, the Government of Canada created the QEII program in 2012, which sends young global leaders on inter-cultural educational exchanges around the world. When his mentor told him about the program, he applied.

“I was drawn to SFU because of its international outlook and strong reputation for research, in particular, its research in the health sciences.” says Omondi.

He has especially appreciated the faculty’s dedication to student well-being and success. After announcing his thesis defense, for example, he was surprised to receive emails from his past SFU professors.

“It really meant a lot to me that my past professors still remembered me and wished me well,” he says.

After successfully defending his thesis last December, Omondi returned home to Kenya. He is hoping to establish a basic science research program with Brumme in the clinical research laboratory where he is now working.

He plans to return to SFU to pursue a PhD this fall.

“I'm glad I had the opportunity to study at SFU,” he says. “It has been a rewarding and fulfilling experience. The professors and my peers fostered an environment very conducive to learning and intellectual self-discovery.”

A summary of Omondi’s research can be found on the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) blog.