Innovative Bachelor of Science in biochemistry programme to spur industrialisation

USIU-Africa BSc biochemistry

The Bachelor of Science in Applied Biochemistry program in USIU-Africa has a high input on the skills part.

Photo credit: USIU-Africa

If you are curious about what governs life, improving healthcare, agricultural productivity and re-engineering manufacturing processes and you are fascinated by molecules, the Bachelor of Science in Applied Biochemistry at USIU-Africa is for you. The field of biochemistry touches on all areas of human life. It is finds applications in food and nutrition, health and medicine, and even the quality of the air that we breathe. It is about how we interact with molecules within and outside of ourselves.

USIU-Africa has introduced the new Bachelor of Science in Applied Biochemistry program to respond to stakeholder needs. “There seems to be challenges with qualified biochemistry graduates seeking employment opportunities in the industry. They are short of skills, and this is a big problem with employers as they have to be retrained or mentored, a process that obviously takes time and resources,” explained Dr. Jonathan Mwangi, an Assistant Professor in Medical Biochemistry at the United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa).

Skills-based training that bridges industry and academia

This degree is a first of a kind in Kenya and no other university in Kenya is offering a Bachelor of Science in Applied Biochemistry. What is currently in the market is a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, whose training according to stakeholders in academia and industry, is mostly theoretical, and require high capital input from employers to orient the graduates in skills applicable to the market.

The Bachelor of Science in Applied Biochemistry program in USIU-Africa has a high input on the skills part. Of the curriculums approved more than 2900 hours, over 50 per cent will be hands-on skills. “For instance in their third year of study, our students will have a nine-units course, covering an entire semester, being taught by industry experts in manufacturing, agricultural research, healthcare, medical research, environmental conservation and such others,” shares Dr. Mwangi.

According to Dr Betty Mbatia, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry & Biotechnology, USIU-Africa has invested in state-of-the-art equipment, laboratories and very competent faculty for this program, which is going to be skills-based, with laboratory researches based on what is currently happening in the industry. She points out that their students will be trained by potential employers, which offers a departure from the way biochemistry is currently being taught, with students getting a practical reality of the industry.

The program is targeting the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) and International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) graduates. Holders of other degrees such as Bachelor of Science, can also enroll. However, such graduates must have majored in chemistry and a biological course. The admission requirements is a minimum C+ mean grade in KCSE.

USIU-Africa has benchmarked their Bachelor of Science in Applied Biochemistry with what is being taught in the United Kingdom, USA, South Africa and Egypt, which gives a competitive edge to their graduates.  “This will see our graduates unrivalled in employability within Kenya and other African countries. They already have a niche market,” he added.

Biochemistry graduates have a role to play in Kenya’s industrialisation dream

Graduates of Bachelor of Science stand to gain employment in research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, forensic science institutions, and nutritional companies. Most importantly, the program stands to make them job creators when they go into self-employment. In biotechnology start-ups can find different ways to spur the industry for general good, and this can be the tool that Kenya needs to industrialiSe the country.

The field of Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry touches on industrial biochemistry, medical biochemistry and forensic biochemistry.

Industrial biochemistry focuses on the application of cells and biological molecules in different areas such as medical, industrial, environmental, agricultural and analytical purposes. A striking example is the use of bacteria to improve industrial processes or make the environment better by managing waste through bio digesters.

Medical biochemistry imparts skills, knowledge and attitude to understand biochemical processes that occur in the human body with a view to their application in the field of medicine and improvement of the quality of life. A good example is what happens in disease acquisition and how this is affected by our genetic makeup. Our graduates also get to learn, for instance, what happens when you take painkillers, how vaccines work, how to develop vaccines, diagnostic kits and the development of new medical treatments, explains Dr. Mwangi, an accomplished biochemist who has read and researched extensively in this area both in Kenya and in the UK.

Forensic biochemistry is the investigation of crime using scientific techniques and methods which include biochemical techniques. It is used to obtain evidence from biological materials in a crime scene in law enforcement and criminal analytics. The biomedical techniques used to conduct forensic investigations constitute the field of forensic biochemistry, which has various applications. For instance, forensic biochemists may be asked to trace the origin of a particular substance, determine paternity or the relationships that specific people or animals share, or even track the spread of diseases. We also use forensics to resolve the challenge of near extinction of certain types of wildlife and stop poaching by having a DNA barcode that identifies animals and that can be used to virtually track and locate the animals. In security, biochemistry is used in helping nations from the threat of bioweapons and bioterrorism. There is need for security professions with the knowledge to detect, contain and destroy biological weapons especially now that technology is becoming easier to obtain and therefore quite accessible by the wrong hands.

Program will close industry gaps in East Africa

This new program of Bachelor of Science in Applied Biochemistry will no doubt impact the East African region and the continent in a big way, and enable the continent close on some gaps. For instance, Africa is known for consumption rather than innovation and largely relies on data collected from other parts of the world including in the practice of medicine, manufacturing and agriculture.

Dr Mwangi explains: “When you look at our hospitals, we import almost everything that we use from food supplements to clothing, medicines, technological equipment and even furniture. The question is why can’t we innovate our own? We have diagnostics gaps as not every disease that we have here exists in the West, if we innovate we will be able to diagnose diseases on time and at an affordable cost and to resolve the gaps in the drugs that we use because there are certain types of drugs that respond differently to certain genetic makeups.”

In the management of chronic diseases, the practice of biochemistry is used to diagnose, follow up with a patient’s treatment and it also helps to informs clinician whether they need to change or continue with the treatment. In Kenya, just like in most developing countries, we rely on imported diagnostic markers and prognostic kits which sometimes do not work as well for us or they are prone to supply chain fluctuations as we have experienced with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In agriculture, Biochemistry is applied in research and manufacture of agrochemicals and farm inputs product development to improve productivity. Most of the herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers in the market are imports and very costly but also prone to supply chain fluctuations. Product development will be a good area to improve crop and animal yields.

Biotechnology is also applied in bio-pharming, where countries are at advanced stages in engineering plants to be making medical products, including vaccines. Very soon we will have edible vaccines that you get by just having a plate of spinach! Africa is however lagging behind in this due to shortage of skills in this field.

In medical diagnostics in Kenya and the East Africa region we have instances where some samples are shipped to South Africa, thus a need to develop our diagnostic and toxicology technologies to make certain medical examinations less expensive and less time consuming. In criminology, graduates of Applied Biochemistry are, through DNA technology, able to examine samples from people who have been wrongly convicted and determine who not only committed a certain crime, but also who did not.


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