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NIH Awards $17M for Pan-African Genomics Research Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health has pumped $17 million into new grants to fund a consortium of genomics research centers and projects in Africa, with the goal of advancing research, training new investigators, and ramping up genomics capabilities and infrastructure across the continent.

These 10 grants, the second round of funding rolled out under the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) program, will fund research programs focused on health problems that plague Africa, collaborative research centers, and the creation of biorepositories to support research projects.

Since it launched in 2010, H3Africa has dispersed around $74 million in funding, NIH said. The program is a partnership funded by the NIH and the Wellcome Trust and involving other international partners.

The new individual research projects will pursue studies into neurological disorders, respiratory diseases, fevers of unknown origin, tuberculosis, and African sleeping sickness.

"Studying human diseases within populations with the greatest genetic variability and encouraging the contributions of our African colleagues should yield new insights about the role of genetics in health and disease," National Human Genome Research Institute Director Eric Green said in a statement.

One grant will provide up to around $4.2 million to create the African Collaborative Center for Microbiome and Genomics Research at the University College Hospital, in Ibadan, Nigeria. This center will focus on the epidemiology of cervical cancer and human papillomavirus infection, and will provide post-doctoral training in research methods, epidemiology, bioinformatics, data management, and lab methods to investigators from across Africa.

The University of Ibadan also will receive approximately $2.4 million to create the Stroke Investigative Research and Educational Network, another collaborative center where researchers will study genetic and environmental risk factors for stroke in Africa, as well as provide training and research capacity.

The funding for biorepositories includes $246,000 to establish one repository at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and $236,000 for another at the Makerere University College of Health Sciences in Kampala, Uganda. These biorepositories will house the samples obtained by the H3Africa research teams, and will make them available to the entire research community.

Another aspect of the H3Africa program is an effort to study the social, ethical, and legal implications of genomics research in Africa. At the University of Cape Town, investigators won a $162,000 award to explore these issues by focusing on the perspectives of scientists, health professionals, communities, and patients with sickle cell disease.

The new funding also will support five individual research projects.

These include grants of $740,000 to Addis Ababa University, in Ethiopia, for molecular analyses of tuberculosis that will involve partners at the J. Craig Venter Institute; $1.5 million to Redeemer's University, in Redemption City, Nigeria, to investigate host and microbial genetic determinants of febrile illness in West Africa; $1.3 million to University Hospital Center du Point G, in Bamako, Mali, to characterize hereditary neurological disorders in Mali; $1.4 million to the University of Cape Town, South Africa, to study the nasopharyngeal microbiome and respiratory disease in African children; and $1.1 million to the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa, to search for targets for potential treatments for African sleeping sickness by studying the parasite's epigenome.

The H3Africa Consortium is holding its third meeting later this week in Johannesburg.