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NIEHS Postdoctoral Fellow Examines Interactions between Environmental and Social Exposures in Nigeria

Musa Kana, M.D., Ph.D., an African Postdoctoral Training Initiative (APTI) fellow at NIEHS, is investigating how environmental and social factors interact to affect health over the course of the lifespan. Kana is one of 10 African scientists selected to be an APTI fellow, and his training at NIEHS is preparing him to lead a birth study in his home country of Nigeria.

Musa Kana, M.D., Ph.D. and Stephanie London, M.D., Dr.P.H.

Kana, left, and mentor London, right, introduce themselves at the APTI orientation in February 2019.
(Photo courtesy of Musa Kana)

Coordinated by the NIH Fogarty International Center and supported by the NIH, the African Academy of Sciences, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the APTI aims to build global research capacity by strengthening ongoing scientific partnerships between the NIH and African investigators and institutions.

During his four-year fellowship, Kana will spend two years working in the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch and then return to his host institution, Federal University Lafia, for the remaining two. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime for me to work at one of the best biomedical laboratories in the world. I’m working with the top scientists and have access to cutting-edge scientific infrastructure that will advance my research and career,” said Kana. “This is an opportunity not only for me to take in all of this knowledge and experience, but to share it with other African scientists when I return back home to Nigeria.”

Kana’s APTI mentor is Stephanie London, M.D., Dr.P.H., Epidemiology Branch deputy chief and senior investigator at NIEHS. London has extensive experience designing and conducting epidemiology studies investigating how environmental factors affect the health of pregnant women and their children. “It’s a very close relationship; I observe her at work, and she observes me at work. She is helping me improve my ability to reason as a scientist,” explained Kana. “There are certain skills that I need to acquire, so she has arranged for me to participate in a number of trainings, and I’ve seen a lot of improvement in how I write and generally function as a scientist in the field of epidemiology.”

Musa Kana, M.D., Ph.D.

Kana presents his findings on intimate partner violence in Kaduna, Nigeria, at the 2019 University of North Carolina Gender-Based Violence Symposium.
(Photo courtesy of Musa Kana)

As a medical doctor in Kaduna, northwestern Nigeria, Kana has seen firsthand the way physical and social environments can affect health at each stage of life. He has published a systematic review of published studies related to maternal and child health interventions in Nigeria and his doctoral dissertation examined the impact of the global financial crisis on low birth weight in Portugal.

Through the APTI fellowship, Kana will learn how to use longitudinal methods to study how exposure to environmental factors, such as hazardous air pollutants, and social factors, such as intimate partner violence during pregnancy and early childhood, may influence health and disease outcomes immediately after birth, during childhood, and later in life. This is preparing Kana to build on the Kaduna Infant Development (KID) Study when he returns to Nigeria.

The purpose of the KID Study is to compile evidence of prenatal and postnatal environmental and maternal exposures on early-life development. Kana will first measure variables affecting maternal health, such as education, occupation, and place of delivery. After the birth of the child, Kana will begin studying the infant’s health over the initial weeks and months, and then annually.

Kana hopes results from his research will inform public health interventions and benefit the public health system in Nigeria. “I am expecting to see a relationship between those exposures and outcomes, which may allow us to make recommendations at the population level to reduce exposures, minimize health impacts, and reduce costs to the public health system,” he said. “Being here and being part of this program creates a path for African researchers to become independent investigators, so that we can have a positive impact on the health and development of our society back in Africa.”