Several challenges contribute to Africa’s trailing position in the global production
of knowledge. Decades of focused work through international and local programmes have
thus far been unable to lift the continent onto its scientific feet. To learn more
about the strengths and weaknesses of neuroscience research carried out on the continent
today, that would enable the development of robust programmes focusing on specific
needs, a strategy is required to extract information about specific contributions
of African laboratories. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is among the top
beneficiaries of international programmes promoting neuroscience research in Africa.
Therefore, to establish and test a framework for evaluating neuroscience output from
the continent, we here focussed on Nigeria’s neuroscience publications over the past
two decades. Using PubMed key-word search and defined exclusion criteria, we extracted
572 neuroscience articles from Nigeria-based laboratories published between 1996 and
2017. Articles were automatically categorised into clinical and epidemiological studies
(55.5%) or basic neuroscience (44.5%) using a support vector machine and decision
tree algorithm. From here, we extracted each publication’s use of model species, methods,
citations received and the publishing journal’s metrics.We find that over the 21 year
period surveyed, only one Nigerian-led neuroscience paper was published in a “top-tier”
international journal with an impact factor of >8. However, about half (55%) of
PubMed indexed articles were published in reputable journals with an impact factor
between 1-4. These publications primarily comprised basic (61%), rather than clinical
and epidemiological studies (39%) which were instead mostly published in lower-ranking
journals. Next, we find a worrying account of model species and research tools employed
in Nigerian-based neuroscience. For example, no studies used genetically amenable
model systems such as zebrafish, Drosophila, C.elegans, or transgenic mouse strains.
Instead, popular model species were human (54%), rat (30%) and wild-type mice (11%).
In line, research techniques employed were dominated by “basic” techniques such as
Hematoxylin and Eosin stainings or classical behavioural analysis, with only 8% of
studies using more modern techniques like PCR, Western blotting or forms of fluorescence
microscopy. Perhaps as one consequence, even though medicinal plants have been used
to treat diseases for decades by locals, and 41% of basic neuroscience studies investigated
their potential utility in treating disease, none made it into local clinical research.Together,
these findings highlight two clear access points for the support of Nigerian neuroscience
in the future: Investment in the training and infrastructure in the use of more modern
research techniques, and the widespread promotion of genetically amenable model species.
Moreover, any such effort might consider specifically targeting existing basic over
clinical or epidemiological research efforts. In time, it will be important to also
assess the neuroscience output across the entire continent.