Ugandan scientist Ssenyange joins Yale University professor for pivotal HIV research
In 2016, George Ssenyange was one of the two students that were accepted at Yale University under the research institution’s International Medical Student Education (OIMSE) program.
He was in his fourth year of medical school at Makerere University.
Ssenyange beat 118 other medical students to qualify for the program through the Makerere University/Yale University (MUYU) collaboration.
The collaboration between Makerere University and Yale University was formalized in 2006 and has had a significant impact on medical education at both institutions.
This collaboration was developed and directed by Dr. Majid Sadigh with strong support from the leadership at the Makerere University College of Health Sciences and Mulago Hospital.
Speaking recently to the YaleNews about the fierce race to join the Ivy League college, Ssenyange said: “It was a tight race but knowing that Yale is among the best universities in the world I just knew I had to go for it.”
He went on: “The day I received the news that I had been selected to represent my country and Makerere University at Yale was one of the most joyous and most cherished moments of my life. Never in my life had I imagined that studying in the United States, let alone at one of its best universities in the world could be possible. It was a dream come true, and an accomplishment I will always be proud of and hold in highest regard.”
George Ssenyange at Yale
At Yale, George Ssenyange who graduated with an honors degree in medicine and surgery was to do a one-month clinical rotation studying infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine.
But while at Yale New Haven Hospital, Ssenyange says, the experience “was mind-blowing, far and above the high expectations I already had” so he started scheming ways to extend his stay.
As luck would have it, by networking through a mentor, he happened upon an opportunity to extend his Yale experience, reports YaleNews.
Prof. Richard Sutton, an infectious diseases physician renowned for his work in HIV molecular biology research, invited Ssenyange to join his lab for six months as a research fellow.
“I understand the grave danger HIV poses to people everywhere around the world and couldn’t think of a better field where I could apply my knowledge and skills to help make a meaningful difference in people’s lives,” said Ssenyange told YaleNews.
“To be given an opportunity to work with Professor Sutton, let alone having him as my mentor, was an honor beyond my wildest dreams.”
While at Sutton’s lab, George Ssenyange aggressively exploited the opportunity to work on a number of projects that involved investigating how, at a molecular level, the HIV virus infects human white blood cells.
According to YaleNews, this project was aimed at digging deeper into how to prevent such infections.
Born and raised in Makindye, a suburb in Kampala – Ssenyange also assisted in researching HIV resistance, an area of science that can have major implications for continued progress in HIV vaccine and cure efforts.
“It is wonderful to give young trainees from Uganda a chance to perform cutting-edge research on HIV and other infectious diseases that still impact most of the world,” said Sutton, according to YaleNews.
Before joining Makerere University College of Health Sciences, George Ssenyange spent six years at St. Mary’s College Kisubi.
His work with Prof. Sutton will end in May and he’ll be returning to Uganda to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology and a career in HIV molecular research.
He says when he returns he’ll be ready to contribute meaningfully to HIV research in Uganda.
“The support, guidance, and learning I have gained from my Yale family of colleagues, friends, and mentors has elevated me to another level career-wise,” said Ssenyange. “Thanks to them I’ll now return home with the knowledge and capabilities to make a meaningful contribution in HIV research to help others.”