When Eric Lontchi Yimagou, Ph.D., M.P.H., heard about the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) fellowship, a prestigious global award for young African scientists, he considered applying—but not immediately. He thought he was too junior to claim such a prize. But an hour later, the 32-year-old postdoctoral researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Diabetes Research Center and Global Diabetes Institute, had a change of heart.
“I suddenly thought, ‘Why not?’” says Dr. Lontchi Yimagou, who was born in Cameroon. “I said to myself: ‘I’m a potential candidate, regardless of my title. It’s about my journey, my background, my vision for the future, for science in the world, for science in Africa. I’m going to give it my best shot—that’s all I can do.’”
Six months later, Dr. Lontchi Yimagou was overseeing a project in India on a rare form of diabetes called malnutrition-modulated diabetes when he received the email he had hoped for: He had been selected as one of 25 NEF fellows.
A Decade of Diabetes Research
As part of the award, Dr. Lontchi Yimagou will be among the hundreds of established and up-and-coming researchers attending the NEF global gathering next year in Nairobi, Kenya. He’ll also have opportunities to showcase his work, mentor young people interested in pursuing scientific careers, and establish collaborations with other researchers who share his passion for the study of diabetes.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), surveys in the African Region, which includes most of the countries on the continent, indicate that up to 15% of adults age 25 to 64 have diabetes. WHO estimates that there will be 23.9 million cases in the African Region by 2030.
Since coming to Einstein in 2016 to work in the lab of Meredith Hawkins, M.D., M.S., Dr. Lontchi Yimagou has won several awards and grants, including a fellowship grant from the American Diabetes Association, the American Federation for Medical Research’s prestigious Henry Christian Award, and first place at the 2019 Einstein and Montefiore Young Investigator Symposium. His research, which he has published and presented at international conferences, includes studies on potential approaches to prevent hypoglycemia-associated autonomic failure in patients with type 1 diabetes and the effects of vitamin D deficiency and its impact on insulin resistance. At University of Pierre and Marie Curie, he studied ketosis-prone diabetes, a unique form of diabetes frequently found in African populations. Dr. Lontchi Yimagou has also evaluated the Changing Diabetes in Children Project in Cameroon, a global project offering free diabetes care to underprivileged individuals with type 1 diabetes.
I want to give back to Africa. I want to learn more so I can have an impact—perhaps with my own lab or the creation of an institute for diabetes research in Africa.
Eric Lontchi Yimagou, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Among his earliest projects as a research assistant in Cameroon was a study, in animal models, of the metabolic effects of quail eggs on diabetes compared with chicken eggs. The impetus for the study was the growing popularity of quail eggs as a treatment for diabetes. Dr. Lontchi Yimagou debunked the commonly accepted myth and found that the consumption of quail eggs by diabetic rats had no effect on blood glucose levels and may have had a negative effect on lipid profiles in the animals.
“I want to give back to Africa,” says Dr. Lontchi Yimagou. “I want to learn more so I can have an impact—perhaps with my own lab or the creation of an institute for diabetes research in Africa.” He added that he would like to establish collaborations among researchers from Western countries and Africa. In addition, Dr. Lontchi Yimagou hopes to help organize scientific conferences where established investigators can share knowledge, skills, experience, and passion to motivate young Africans to develop research skills early in their careers.
Mentoring and Mission
Following his decision to apply for the NEF fellowship, Dr. Lontchi Yimagou worked closely with Diane Safer, Ph.D., director of Einstein’s career and professional development program, which serves postdoctoral researchers and graduate students.
Dr. Safer said she worked with Dr. Lontchi Yimagou to help him highlight his research, goals, and values on his CV, in the required fellowship essays, and in a script for a YouTube video he produced that describes his global experience, accomplishments, and passion for science.
“You have to be proactive and you have to be a little brave,” says Dr. Safer, who praised Dr. Lontchi Yimagou for spending time reflecting on his goals and explaining the value of his work to the NEF selection committee. “Whether you’re applying for a prestigious scientific fellowship or working in medical communications or as a staff scientist, you have to know your audience and speak to your own talents.”
“I learned a lot of things through this process,” adds Dr. Lontchi Yimagou. “You just have to apply for opportunities and make your application as strong as you can. I’m humbled and honored, and I’m grateful to so many people who supported me, including my family, mentors, friends, and colleagues.”
Now that the two-year fellowship is about to begin, Dr. Lontchi Yimagou says he’s ready to take on the role of an ambassador for science and research to help address the global challenge of diabetes.
“I have a lot of responsibilities,” he says. “It’s not like you get the award and that’s it. I have a vision. And now I have a mission.”
Posted on: Monday, August 05, 2019