Emmanuel Yaw Dotsey

Spotlight Image

Mosquitoes and UCI Pharmacology & Toxicology doctoral candidate Emmanuel Yaw Dotsey share a long history. Growing up in the West African country of Ghana, he learned to live with the presence of these flying insects and the many diseases they carry, including malaria. “I protected myself from malaria attacks with an herbal preparation originally introduced to me by my grandfather who was a renowned herbalist,” Emmanuel says.

He points out that in Africa, malaria is the largest killer of children, accounting for 33 percent of all deaths in children under five years of age. “For me, the decision to study pharmacology came naturally. I was exposed to the effects of this life-threatening disease transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes - and I knew I wanted to help find a cure.” It was Emmanuel’s curiosity and sense of intrigue about how drugs work that led him to science and pharmacology.

Destiny and Determination

So how exactly did he end up traveling 8,000 miles to southern California?  According to Emmanuel, it can be summed up in one word, destiny. “Destiny brought me to the shores of America in 1997 when I won the Diversity Visa lottery through the State Department and was automatically granted permanent resident status in the US.”  

With his residency status secure, Emmanuel immersed himself in his studies and today holds a B.S. in Biology from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA). He is finishing his doctoral studies here at the University of California, Irvine in the lab of Professor Daniele Piomelli. Emmanuel credits Dr. Piomelli with fueling his passion for cellular pharmacology and medicinal chemistry. “I chose UCI’s department of pharmacology because of the great faculty and world-class facilities, and under the guidance of Dr. Piomelli, I have developed a core set of skills that will help me in my goal of developing drugs and vaccines for the prevention of malarial infections.”

Over the course of his studies, Emmanuel has been the recipient of many awards and fellowships including a Graduate Opportunity Fellowship (GOF) and the Faculty Mentor Program (FMP) Fellowship Award.  While an undergraduate at CSULA, he was the recipient of a National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training Program Award which allowed him to conduct research at the King’s College School of Pharmacy in London.  

The Importance of Family

dotsey familyReceiving a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Toxicology from UCI’s School of Medicine is an achievement that Emmanuel does not take lightly. “Being the first in my large extended family to obtain a doctoral degree is a significant event and means a great deal.” He points out that he is one of three children raised by a single mother. “My mother raised me and my siblings all by herself. I have always wondered how she pulled off such an enormous feat.”

Heritage and culture play a big part in Emmanuel’s life.  For example, in the Ewe language, a Niger-Congo language spoken in Ghana, Togo and Benin by about 3 million people, his last name, “Dotsey” means “he who was born after the twins.” Emmanuel explains that Ghanaians share a culture of assigning middle and first names based on the day one was born. His middle name, “Yaw” identifies that he was born on a Thursday.

He recalls a childhood memory where every night before going to sleep, his mother would read him and his brother a story titled, Agbezoge which translates to “The blessed can never be cursed.”  Written in the Ewe language, the story centers around an orphan who must endure immense challenges, tragedy, and misfortune, but in the end is triumphant. “The story of Agbezoge taught me a lesson that was ingrained in my young mind: there is no challenge or situation that cannot be overcome by a determined spirit,” he notes. Emmanuel keeps the sentiments of this story close to his heart as he shares his heritage with his wife Louise who is from Glasgow, Scotland and his three-year old son Emmanuel.  

And what does he do for relaxation? When he is not conducting research, he can be found learning to play the acoustic guitar with his son. “There is something to be said for learning an instrument when you are older- especially with a child who is fearless – and competitive,” he says with a chuckle.

Next Steps

Emmanuel has been awarded a postdoctoral position in UCI’s School of Medicine Division of Infectious Disease.  Working under the auspices of Professor Philip L. Felgner, he will be conducting research on the disease that triggered his curiosity so many years ago. “This fulfills my dream of applying my education to help find drugs and vaccines for the world’s neglected diseases.”     

Spotlight for Print.