Faculty Highlight: Afua Nyarko

The journey of a biochemist from Ghana

Afua Nyarko grew up in what she describes as a “curiosity-driven environment” in Accra, Ghana. Her engineer father encouraged her early interest in science and mathematics, which she excelled in. She would go on to study biochemistry at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi—one of Ghana’s top science universities.

Nyarko joined the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics as an assistant professor this year. However, she is no stranger to Oregon State. Nyarko has been a postdoctoral associate and a senior researcher in biochemistry and biophysics since 2008 after spending time as a postdoctoral scholar at University of York, England. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Ohio in Athens.

Nyarko’s research focuses on protein interactions and their role in the formation of tumors. She is one of just a handful of scientists worldwide studying proteins from a structural biology perspective, whereby detailed information on the structure of specific amino acids can reveal how tumor suppressor proteins inhibit specific growth-promoting proteins. Nyarko explains that her research will help scientists to better understand how to treat tumors and know what drugs to administer for more effective treatment.” Her research is funded through a Medical Research Foundation Grant awarded by Oregon Health and Science University.

Nyarko counts as her influences women scientists—her peers and predecessors—who have successfully balanced career and family. As a minority woman scientist, she stands out in the sciences—she is one of few black women scientists on campus and the only full-time faculty of African descent in her department. The significance of her identity is not lost on Nyarko.

“I see myself in a position to help others.”

“I have a lab now and there is an opportunity for students and young scientists to come and work in the lab. Sometimes minority students feel they don’t blend in very well, but working in the lab of another minority would really encourage them to get into the science,” said Nyarko.

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