African health research network gets cash injection

Experts hope the fund with give African researchers more expertise and credibility Copyright: Flickr/Julien Harneis

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[CAPE TOWN] An African network on hereditary disease genomics has received a grant of US$38 million to undertake research on the genetics of infections.

The Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) initiative received the funding earlier this month (8 October), for nine research projects focusing on the study of genomics and the environmental causes of kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, tuberculosis and African sleeping sickness in 22 African countries.

The funds have been provided by the Wellcome Trust, a global charity based in London, United Kingdom, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Over a period of five years, they will fund research in Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda who will collaborate with researchers form other 17 Africa countries.

Eric Green, director of the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), said the grants will build essential infrastructure, facilitate the training of new experts, and develop research capacity for science within African institutions.

Albert Amoah, a researcher at the National Diabetes Management and Research Centre at the University of Ghana, commended the establishment of pan-African research partnerships. He hoped they would successfully bring together researchers with different skills and resources to tackle the growing diabetes problem on the continent.  

"The need for research is clear," said Dwomoa Adu, a researcher from the University of Ghana Medical School, whose team has received funding from the new grant to study kidney disease.  "More than half a million people in Africa are dying from renal diseases."

Understanding the wide diversity of genetics in Africa is important, as no single, blanket approach to identifying diseases will always work, said Caryn McNamara, a project manager at the University of Witwatersrand’s Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB).

McNamara told SciDev.Net that the fund will allow researchers to conduct genomic research projects on a much larger scale than was previously possible, and to purchase state-of-the-art equipment. The SBIMB project will look at factors like obesity and body fat distribution across different communities in African.

"There are credible and well-trained African scientists," Alash’le Abimiku, an assistant professor at the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) in Nigeria, told SciDev.Net. These scientists are ready to use high level science to investigate infectious and non-infectious diseases affecting Africans, she added.

Clement Adebamowo, a professor of surgery at IHV, said the fund would give researchers more expertise and credibility. He also hopes it may help reverse trend of samples being sent for testing to other, more ‘developed’ parts of the world.

"We only fund scientific excellence," said Pat Goodwin, head of pathogens, immunology and population health pathogens at the Wellcome Trust. "Best grantees were chosen by a peer review process," she added.