In November 2017, Dr Imran Janmohamed, from Anthias Consulting travelled to the University of Lagos (UniLag) in Nigeria, to lead a GC-MS training course, part of a programme of courses run by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Pan Africa Chemistry Network and GSK. He was accompanied by fellow trainer Zoe Zeliku, from GSK.
The programme not only trains chemical scientists to carry out GC-MS for their own research work, but also gives them the skills and confidence to train others, maintain equipment and to transform the analytical science capability of their colleagues and institutions.
Imran wrote us a day-by-day account of his experiences.
On landing at Lagos Mutamala airport, we were greeted with warm 22 degree weather, and the smiling face of local organising secretary Dr Josephat Izunobi. The weather was a welcome change from the freezing temperatures we had left in the UK!
After a short car journey, complete with police escort, we arrived and checked in. The king-size bed was very inviting after the seven-hour flight, but first we had a quick breakfast of yams and omelettes, and a much-needed cup of tea.
We met again later and headed to the Central Research Laboratory at UniLag – whose facilities we would be using during the week – to meet with the director, Professor Kehinde Olayinka and inspect the instruments. The laboratory is well equipped with various GC, GC-MS, HPLC and other analytical instruments.
We also met with Professor Familoni, chairman of the PACN Nigeria and the Local Trainers from the Universities of Lagos and Ibadan, Dr Temilola Oluseyi, Dr Adebola Adeyi, and Dr Oluwatoyin Fatunsin.
In the evening, all the delegates and trainers received a warm welcome from Professor Familoni during dinner, after which we headed to our rooms to rest. I was excited to start the course.
The day started – after a warm buffet breakfast – with the opening ceremony, where I spoke about the importance of the workshop, the lack of access to analytical equipment in Africa, and recent statistics on the knowledge gap.
After a short walk to the classroom in the pleasant weather, we began the course. In our introduction, Zoe and I emphasised that the delegates should expect to learn from each other as well as the trainers. The delegates were from various backgrounds – from researchers and post docs to professors, and from various universities across Nigeria, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast.
After the introductions, I dived straight into the course – an introduction to gas chromatography and the process of column separation and detection.
Lunch was a spread of Jollof rice, noodles, fried plantain, soups and stews made from beef, fish, or chicken. For a novice to Nigerian cuisine the taste can be quite spicy!
In the afternoon we gave an overview of GC-MS instrumentation and mass spectrometry theory, and the day ended with a tour of the laboratory
On Tuesday we started early, 5am, to travel by bus to the GSK site in Agbara, in the state of Ogun. The site manufactures over the counter medicines such as Panadol and oral healthcare products such as Macleans toothpaste.
The factory tour included the analytical labs, manufacturing facilities and the tablet formulation section. Everyone greatly enjoyed the visit – a first-hand experience of the analytical, manufacturing and packaging processes.
After lunch we continued with the training, focusing on the mass analyser and ionisation, and an introduction to mass spectral interpretation delivered by the local trainers.
The long journey back to Lagos through the muddle of roads and traffic was quite an experience, and it gave me the opportunity to chat to the delegates about the various challenges of their countries.
Wednesday was a busy day, focusing on practical sessions. We started with slides on quadrupole and mass spectral interpretation, and followed these with practical sessions in the lab. We split the delegates into two groups, each taking on a different instrument and gaining hands-on experience..
Each day we held feedback sessions, and today I was really glad to hear positive comments from the delegates: "More confident with interpretation of MS and in general with overall GC-MS", "great group interactions", "energetic trainers", and "great exercises helped embed the theory". We even received a round of applause!
On Thursday, I taught the theory of sampling, and continued with more advanced spectral interpretation. Then the local trainers led a session in the labs on sampling. We extracted pharmaceutical products from water using Solid Phase Extraction (SPE), with the aim of analysing them on the GC-MS the next day.
I also demonstrated the cleaning of the ion source, which is an important exercise for any analyst who uses a GC-MS.
At dinner, the delegates presented both Zoe and me with colourful Nigerian attire, as a gesture of their gratitude. Although I did not feel it was required, I was delighted and grateful to the delegates for their thoughtfulness.
On Friday morning, we successfully analysed the pharmaceutical samples we prepared yesterday, proving that the unknown compound in the sample was paracetamol. In the afternoon we asked each delegate to provide their feedback for the course and set themselves three commitments for when they returned to their universities.
At the closing ceremony Professor Kehinde presented each delegate with a certificate of participation in the GC-MS workshop. The course is approved by the Royal Society of Chemistry for the purposes of Continuous Professional Development for chemical scientists.
Despite the course being formally over, the delegates were keen to carry on, so we decided to continue with a few more exercises until it was time to leave.
The week finally over, we headed back to the guest house for the final dinner of the week, which included a celebration for Professor Familoni’s birthday.
Leaving Nigeria was a bittersweet moment – I was excited to have completed the training successfully, and excited to come home to my family, but sad to leave the enthusiastic and motivated delegates from the course. But alas, time was up. I travelled to the airport, queued at the counter, sat on my plane, enjoyed the last few moments of the heat and off my aeroplane drifted into the sky back to London.
What is exciting is that the training will have an amazing impact on science in the country. The developed world has had continued access and knowledge, but political focus and financial support has been minimal in Africa.
I believe this programme will be a game changer – ensuring access to equipment and information across the African continent. Each delegate on this course has the potential to transform the analytical science capability of their University and the knowledge of their colleagues.
This journey, started by Dr Steve Lancaster and Professor Anthony Gachanja, will continue to last and benefit African development, with the support of GSK, the Royal Society of Chemistry and, crucially, the community across Africa.