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NIH To Invest $25M Over Five Years For International Collaboration On Genetic Research In Africa

The NIH on Tuesday announced a partnership with Wellcome Trust and the African Society for Human Genetics that will enable African researchers to “use the latest genetic and clinical technology to study common health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and other diseases,” VOA News reports (DeCapua, 6/22).

“Called the Human Heredity and Health in Africa project, or H3Africa, the effort will receive $5 million a year from the National Institutes of Health for five years starting in the 2011 fiscal year,” in addition to the $750,000 provided by the institute this year to begin organizing the project, according to an NIH press release. “The Wellcome Trust will contribute at least $12 million (£8 million) over the next five years to H3Africa, as well as administrative support, advanced training and scientific consultation.” The African Society for Human Genetics will also provide “in-kind support, particularly organizing researchers in Africa,” according to the press release (6/22).

As part of the effort, “[r]esearchers will help set up ‘biobanks’ to collect DNA and medical information from hundreds of thousands of African people so that scientists can study links between genes and disease,” Reuters reports. “They also hope to set up or build on local research centres and use genome-wide scanning and sequencing technologies to find genetic change that may contribute to specific illnesses.”

While “[s]ome studies will focus on the role genes play in Africa’s biggest killer diseases – malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS – … others will look at conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, all of which are becoming widespread in African populations,” Reuters writes.

Reuters notes that despite the high burden of infectious disease in Africa, a Thomson Reuters report published in April found the continent lags behind in health research. The report also found that “Africa suffers from a ‘haemorrhage of talent’, with many of its best brains leaving to study abroad,” the news service writes.

The article includes comments by NIH Director Francis Collins; Director of the Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health at the National Human Genome Research Institute Charles Rotimi; and Head the University of Cape Town’s Department of Medicine Bongani Mayosi (Kelland, 6/22).

“H3Africa will be fundamentally different than previous investments in medical research in Africa,” Rotimi said, according to the NIH release. “In the past, many research projects simply took samples from Africa and conducted the studies back in Western labs. H3Africa will build the capacity for African researchers to study African populations to solve African problems and will create strong collaborations between African researchers and those in Europe, the United States, and other parts of the world” (6/22).

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