Lara Dugas, an Honorary Professor in Human Biology at the University of Cape Town (UCT), has been awarded a prestigious AXA Research Chair, titled The AXA Research Chair in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Epidemiology. The Chair is only the second awarded to a researcher in Africa (the first also resides at UCT) and will allow Dugas to continue her ongoing research into how the lived environment impacts long-term NCD outcomes in African populations.
“My specific focus is to understand how lifestyle, including habitual diet and physical activity, alters the gut microbiota and changes NCD risk,” explains Dugas.
The AXA Research Chair will support a global research partnership between UCT and Loyola University Chicago (LUC), where Dugas also holds the position of Associate Professor of Global Public Health and Epidemiology in the Department of Public Health Sciences.
“It will permit us to combine three large cohorts from both UCT and LUC to understand the intersection between infectious, communicable diseases and NCD risk,” confirms Dugas. “My primary funded research has focused on NCDs in African-origin populations. UCT has been a collaborator in my research since 2008. This is an amazing culmination of this partnership. The AXA Research Chair will allow me to be based full-time at UCT, while still engaging in my internationally funded cohort studies. This will be critical to the success of the AXA Research Chair goals.”
A global research network
According to Dugas, the AXA Research Chair will support three important research collaborations.
“Firstly, our goal is to conduct world-class research by combining several large cohort studies to understand the intersection between long-term infectious disease and chronic NCD outcomes. Second, we will focus on capacity building by funding one senior research associate and two postdoctoral researchers within UCT’s School of Public Health & Family Medicine. Third, as part of a long-term strategy, we want to create a research environment that crosses departments and schools to bring together current NCD expertise. This will advance our understanding of the uniquely African NCD milieu.”
“My specific focus is to understand how lifestyle, including habitual diet and physical activity, alters the gut microbiota and changes NCD risk.”
Dugas is also hopeful that this collaboration will expand both UCT’s and LUC’s global public health footprints, not only through bi-directional exchanges between the two universities , but also throughout her current international research collaborations in Ghana, Jamaica, Seychelles and the United States.
Second chair awarded in Africa
The AXA Chair is one of only 66 that have ever been awarded by the AXA Research Fund, which seeks to “create a dedicated full-time senior academic position in an institution which supports a significant acceleration in the development of a research field and fosters a step-change in the career of the appointed AXA Professor.”
The Chair offers a €1M, five-year award and is the second to be awarded in Africa. The first, awarded to Professor Mark New, director of the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) in 2016, is also hosted at UCT.
Dugas is honoured to be named the latest AXA Research Chair. “I am the first in my family to receive a university degree. When I finished my PhD, I didn’t even know that positions like this existed,” explains Dugas. “I have been extremely fortunate to have found a career that I feel so passionate about, and to be surrounded by so many incredible mentors and collaborators. This work really is built on the shoulders of giants.”
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