Yale People

Sutton Lab researcher brings Yale experiences home to Uganda

George Ssenyange at the Sutton Lab
George Ssenyange at the Sutton Lab.

Yale is known worldwide as an institution that successfully leverages the power of partnerships and networks to transform the educational experiences and career opportunities of students, while also producing remarkable outcomes in science and global health. 

George Ssenyange, a medical exchange student from Uganda, is an example of this success.

Ssenyange was born and raised in Makindye, a suburb in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. He enjoyed many early successes while attending St. Mary’s College Kisubi, a secondary school in Uganda. He attended Makerere University Medical School, the top-ranked medical school in Africa and the oldest public university in Uganda. Ssenyange graduated with honors, obtaining a degree in medicine and surgery.

In his fourth year of medical school in 2016, Ssenyange applied for and, courtesy of the Makerere/Yale University (MUYU) collaboration, was accepted into the Yale Office of International Medical Student Education (OIMSE) program.

The competition is fierce. Out of a total class of 120 medical students, Ssenyange was one of 26 shortlisted for consideration, and just one of two accepted to Yale that year.

Ssenyange performing a malaria Rapid diagnostic test on a patient at Pajule Health Centre in Northern Uganda
Ssenyange performing a malaria rapid diagnostic test on a patient at Pajule Health Centre in Northern Uganda.

It was a tight race but knowing that Yale is among the best universities in the world I just knew I had to go for it,” Said Ssenyange. “The day I received the news that I had been selected to represent my country and Makerere University at Yale was one of the most joyous and most cherished moments of my life. Never in my life had I imagined that studying in the United States, let alone at one of its best universities in the world could be possible. It was a dream come true, and an accomplishment I will always be proud of and hold in highest regard.”

Ssenyange made the trip to Yale in the summer of 2016 to begin a one-month clinical rotation studying infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine.

My clinical rotation at Yale New Haven Hospital was a mind-blowing experience, far and above the high expectations I already had,” said Ssenyange. “In my time here, I have met and befriended so many amazing people, people with brilliant minds, many of whom I am lucky to have not only as friends, but as mentors as well.”

Ssenyange loved the study experience and environment of his rotation so much that he endeavored to do everything he could to find a way to extend his stay and study longer at Yale. As luck would have it, by networking through a mentor, he happened upon an opportunity to extend his Yale experience. Prof. Richard Sutton, an infectious diseases physician renowned for his work in HIV molecular biology research, invited Ssenyange to join his lab for six months as a research fellow.

 “I understand the grave danger HIV poses to people everywhere around the world and couldn’t think of a better field where I could apply my knowledge and skills to help make a meaningful difference in people’s lives,” said Ssenyange. “To be given an opportunity to work with Professor Sutton, let alone having him as my mentor, was an honor beyond my wildest dreams.”

Ssenyange activating primary CD4+ cells (WBCs) before transfection in a biological safety cabinet.
Ssenyange activating primary CD4+ cells (WBCs) before transfection in a biological safety cabinet.

In Sutton’s lab Ssenyange worked on a project to investigate how, at a molecular level, the HIV virus infects human white blood cells with the goal being to better understand the different ways to prevent such infections. He also helped research HIV resistance, an area of science that can have major implications for continued progress in HIV vaccine and cure efforts. “It is wonderful to give young trainees from Uganda a chance to perform cutting-edge research on HIV and other infectious diseases that still impact most of the world,” said Sutton.

Ssenyange will finish his fellowship in May, whereupon he will return to Uganda to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology and a career in HIV molecular research. Ssenyange says he couldn’t be more appreciative to everyone who had helped him get where he is today, but he is especially grateful to those he refers to as his “two” families: his family back at home and his Yale family.

The support, guidance and learning I have gained from my Yale family of colleagues, friends, and mentors has elevated me to another level career-wise,” said Ssenyange. “Thanks to them I’ll now return home with the knowledge and capabilities to make a meaningful contribution in HIV research to help others.” 

Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale and Africa: Empowering through partnership

Media Contact

Adam Gaber: adam.gaber@yale.edu, 203-436-5449