Burundian scientist Mireille Kamariza has teamed up with other top chemists to find a simpler and more effective diagnostic method for tuberculosis (TB). With the help of her mentor and chemistry teacher, Saloua Saidane, the 27-year-old discovered a potential breakthrough in the fight against TB, an infectious disease that is estimated to affect 10 million people annually across the world.
Kamariza hopes her invention will help detect the bacteria that causes TB more effectively, according to NPR.
Not My Career
Kamariza, who is currently working on her Ph.D., says she never dreamed of becoming a scientist because she wasn’t exposed to science while growing up in Burundi.
“Science was something that Europeans and Americans did. It was for other people – not for me.”
Growing up in a country ravaged by a deadly civil war, Kamariza, like most of her peers, had a hard time getting a good education, but she managed to attend a government-run Catholic school, before moving to the U.S. at the age of 17 to join her two brothers who lived in a small studio apartment in San Diego. They all worked various odd jobs to pay the bills.
While attending San Diego Mesa College, Kamariza met Sadiane, a fellow French-speaking African from Tunisia who introduced her to science.
“She really pushed me and kept motivating me and telling me I should aim high. Whatever she told me, I did,” Kamariza said.
She later joined the University of California, where she spent her summer holidays conducting biology research after earning a diversity scholarship from the National Institutes of Health.
The young grad student then joined Stanford University Chemist Carolyn Bertozzi’s lab, where, together with other students, she embarked on a mission to discover a quicker way to diagnose TB.
The team soon discovered a new test that is able to recognize a microbe known as trehalose, which is exclusively found in bacteria that cause TB.
This test uses special substances that cause TB bacteria cells to glow green, making it easy for medical researchers to spot them under a microscope.
Compared to the current TB tests, Kamariza’s method has proved to be less laborious and more effective.
Kamariza and her team now hope to come up with a simple and quicker method of diagnosing the disease so that they can eliminate the six weeks that patients have to wait to get results under the current procedure.
She says that eradicating tuberculosis is a personal calling for her because she witnessed many of her villagers, including her close relative back in Burundi, die from the disease.
BY FREDRICK NGUGI