From A Village Boy In Ganya To Be Listed Among 1,000 Inspiring Black Scientists In America: The Journey Of Dr. Alhaji N’jai

Sierra Leone’s Dr. Alhaji N’jai has been named in this year’s 1,000 Inspiring Black Scientists in America. Born in Ganya, Falalaba District, Sierra Leone. He started his primary school at the Ganya Primary School and then went to Kabala Secondary School. At Kolonten Secondary School, Kambia, he sat to the GCE exam. He did his Senior Secondary School 6 (SSS6) at the St Francis Secondary School, Makeni.  Dr. Alhaji N’jai was admitted to the University of Sierra Leone in Freetown, where he studied pure and applied sciences.

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Unfortunately for him, as he inched closer to graduation, Sierra Leones civil war escalated to the capital. In 1996, Dr. N’jai left Sierra Leone for the United States of America and was accepted on a one-year foreign exchange program at the Kalamazoo College in Michigan. He finished his degree in biological sciences a year later. Western Michigan eventually accepted him for a master’s program even though he was unable to obtain his full transcripts because of the civil war.

In 2007, he went to Madison, Wisconsin. There, he became inspired with the Wisconsin Idea, which holds “that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom.” Dr. N’jai finished his master’s degree and worked as a scientist at the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Alhaji N’jai is now a PhD research scientist at University of Wisconsin Madison Department of Pathobiological Sciences, a Professor of infectious diseases and toxicology at the University of Sierra Leone. He is also Adjunct Faculty at the University of Sierra Leone and Njala University. Also, host the Panafrica Radio Show on WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, the United States of America. The Panafrica Radio Show features eclectic mix of music, culture, history and stories from Africa. It has consistently ranked among the top five programs in part to his extensive knowledge of the music and indigenous cultures of Africa. He has interviewed and played host to some of the best artists from Africa and the diaspora. Because of the popularity, it has become a focal point for African artists to get their music played or be interviewed in the US. 

Since December 2014, he has been a co-principal investigator for Ebola control and infectious disease emerging in Africa (IDEA) iniatitve in Sierra Leone, that has resulted in establishment of international collaborative projects on Ebola and infectious disease between the University of Sierra Leone, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Institute of Medical Sciences at University of Tokyo, and Joint Medical Unit of 34 Military hospital, 2) set-up of functional laboratory in Freetown, and development of a novel vaccine. He has been a leading and respectable global voice on Covid-19 pandemic and was tapped by Freetown City Council Mayor to lead the Covid-19 intervention for 42 markets in the city. He has been a regular and trusted voice on Covid-19 pandemic education on national and international radio, TV, and webinars.

On the industry front, from March 2010 to 2016, He led Global Research and Development and product safety as Senior Scientist with Procter & Gamble Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, providing technical and business support (net worth > $20 Billion) and developing product safety capability for innovative growth from concept to market in 180 countries. He was awarded several Power of You awards for leadership in end to end human and environmental safety risk assessment of cosmetics drug products, innovativeness, agility, partnership, executing with excellence and bringing out our best in the company.

On the academic front at University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Sierra Leone, his research over the last 20 years in the areas of expertise functional genomics, bioinformatics, systems biology, immunology, toxicology, infectious disease, stem cell biology, anthropology and public health has resulted in multiple publications and offered new paradigms around aryl hydrocarbon (Ah) receptor signalling and Cytochrome P450 metabolism pathways. Because of this work, he has emerged as a leader in the field with invitations to present or chair sessions at national and international meetings as well as expert reviewer of international Journals in the field. He has been invited to chair and lead panel reviews for National Science Foundation (NSF) Life Science Research Tools – Omics technologies (Genomics, Proteomics, and Metabolomics), Systems Biology, Bioinformatics, Biomarker Development, and Cell Imaging and chair for Africa Research Excellence Fellowships (AREF) reviews for last five years. At University of Wisconsin-Madison, he has developed and led unique global multidisciplinary global health field courses that brings students from US to partner with students from University of Sierra Leone for real time interaction on workable models of community health.

Dr. Alhaji N’jai introduced a toxicology module course at the University of Sierra Leone for the first time in the country’s educational journey.

In 2018, alongside Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, one of the world’s leading virologists, Dr. Alhaji N’jai was part of the team working to develop an experimental vaccine for the deadly Ebola virus. In an interview with Wisconsin Public Television’s Here & Now, he explained about the health ramifications of the new Ebola vaccine. “In 2014, we set up a functional lab system in Sierra Leone through Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka’s group working on the vaccine, but also looking at some of the molecular causes – why does Ebola kill, why is Ebola so lethal and why do some people survive Ebola?” Dr. N’jai said.

Dr. Alhaji N’jai, in 2019 decided to establish the first ever college in Koinadugu district, The Koinadugu College. He’s currently the founder and chancellor of the college. The college is under construction and will be completed in due time. He has been involved in transforming lives, empowering youths and gender, and building capacity for community development in Sierra Leone through School-Community-University Partnership Models. His desire to help his home town in Sierra Leone led him to start a non-profit organization called Project 1808, in 2011, a non-profit organization dedicated to building capacity for sustainable livelihood in Sierra Leone. From an initial 56 students in 2011, Project 1808, Inc. has supported and trained over 400 students drawn from various primary and secondary schools in Koinadugu District. Dr.  Alhaji N’jai initiated the Annual Science and Leadership Festival in Kabala. The Annual Science and Leadership Festival now attracts hundreds of people to Kabala, Sierra Leone. Highlights of programs include Ebola Survivor Livelihood Skills Development Training centre in Rokel, Freetown that has graduated over 150 survivors in computers, tailoring, catering, and driving. Project 1808, Inc. is in the process of setting up of a model college/University in Kabala, Koinadugu District, which focuses on technical mastery, leadership, sustainability, entrepreneurship, and indigenous African knowledge.

Recently. Dr. Alhaji N’jai has also led a seroprevalence study for Covid-19 virus among the general population and also collecting swabs for sequencing of the Covid-19 virus to determine variant straints and virulence.

From a small rural town in Sierra Leone, to the United States of America, to a PhD research scientist, and to be listed in the list of 1,000 Inspiring Black Scientist in America – this is the incredible and inspiring story of Dr. Alhaji N’jai

BE INSPIRED! DON’T GIVE UP! HOPE. DREAM. BELIEVE.  

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