African genomics projects highlighted at major international scientific meeting
For Immediate Release
Paris, France, 21 May—The diverse range of human genomics research projects being undertaken by African institutions and researchers involved in the Human Hereditary and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Consortium was highlighted yesterday during the 5th Biennial Meeting of the Human Variome Project Consortium. The lead researchers from seven African nations involved in the H3Africa Consortium presented their ongoing work at a special session of the Human Variome Project meeting that was opened by Mdme Robertine Raonimahary, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Africa Department Office for Cooperation and partnerships between Member States.
“It is no secret that Africa’s history has been marked by a development narrative in which the benefits from science, technology and innovation have been enjoyed by few,” said Raonimahary. “Today it is changing and Africa’s leaders view science, technology and innovation as critical to human development and global competitiveness and increasingly are investing more substantially in research, quality science education and upgrade of research and teaching infrastructure. Over the last few years the biggest revolution is occurring in genomic research. Nowadays Africans have the highest levels of genetic diversity within and among populations and the study of this diversity can contribute immensely to this area of science. First of all to reconstruct human demographic and evolutionary history, to study the African Diaspora and African ancestry globally, to study the genetic basis of susceptibility to communicable and non-communicable diseases and finally to understand differences in drug response.”
The projects being presented ran the gamut of human genomics research from identifying the genetic variants involved in the development of diseases primarily affecting individuals of African descent to investigating the underlying genomic components of susceptibility to infectious diseases such as trypanosomiasis. Researchers also reported on the development of a continent spanning bioinformatics capability and a network of state-of-the-art biorepositories.
Professor Raj Ramesar from the University of Cape Town, who chaired the session and sits on the H3Africa Steering Committee, said, “Twenty-seven African nations are currently involved in the H3Africa Consortium covering twenty research project n diseases of local relevance with funding in the order of US$74 million provided by the US National Institutes of Health and the UK Wellcome Trust. The session during the Human Variome Project meeting was directed at bringing the progress and results of these important projects to the attention of African governments and highlighting the current research impetus in their countries towards translating the outcomes of these projects for local utility.”
Dr Oyekanmi Nash, from the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Abuja, Nigeria, and part of the project that is creating the African Bioinformatics Network to support researchers through the development of bioinformatics capacity on the continent, highlighted the strength of African research. “Africa now has the capacity to support the research that needs to be done. Before, African researchers were forced to go overseas to train and undertake research projects. Now, African scientists are able to collaborate globally from Africa. It is now a fertile environment for science and technology development.”
Professor Richard Cotton, the Scientific Director of the Human Variome Project, an international organisation to facilitate the free and open sharing of genomic knowledge, and who arranged for the session to take place remarked, “What we saw presented yesterday was a firm foundation on which further world class research work can be launched. The research that the H3Africa Consortium is undertaking is of a quality that puts it among some of the best in the world.”
Professor Raj Ramesar
Head of the Division of Human Genetics, University of Cape Town
Professor Richard Cotton
Scientific Director, Human Variome Project
About the Human Variome Project
The Human Variome Project is an international consortium of heath care professionals, researchers and policy makers that are committed to the idea of free and open sharing of genomic variation information. Our members come from over 80 countries and from every region of the world. Individually and together, they are working to establish the standards, systems and infrastructure to ensure that the knowledge and insights into our genome gained in their own countries are shared in a responsible manner with every other country.
The Human Variome Project acts as an umbrella organisation across multiple countries, institutions and initiatives. It works to encourage communication and collaboration around it central vision—the improvement of global health through the sharing of genomic knowledge.
Human Hereditary and Health Africa is a programme developed and supported by the African Society of Human Genetics, the Wellcome Trust (UK) and the National Institutes of Health (USA). It aims to facilitate a contemporary research approach to the study of genomics and environmental determinants of common diseases with the goal of improving the health of African populations.