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NIH, Wellcome Trust to Fund African Genetics Project

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health and the UK's Wellcome Trust jointly announced today that they plan to undertake a series of studies in Africa that seek to identify genetic variants linked to a wide range of diseases.

The Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) project will be a five-year effort to use genetic, clinical, and epidemiologic screening tools in Africa to search for hereditary and non-hereditary risks for communicable diseases such as malaria and non-communicable disorders like cancer and heart disease. The studies will be conducted by African researchers with support from NIH and Wellcome Trust.

NIH will provide $5 million per year, in addition to $750,000 it is providing this fiscal year to begin organizing the project, while Wellcome Trust is providing at least $12 million (£8 million) over the term of the project.

"Most global health research understandably focuses on difficult infectious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria," NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement.

"But studies show the developing world increasingly suffers the same common chronic diseases as the West. We must take advantage of new research approaches, such as population studies employing genetic and environmental analyses, to understand both communicable and non-communicable disorders in these important parts of the world. What we learn in Africa about genetic variation and disease will have impacts across the globe," said Collins.

The project will be managed by the National Human Genome Research Institute, and although administrative details are still being developed, NIH said that both it and Wellcome Trust plan to use their standard procedures for making awards.

A working group will be formed to develop the details of the project that will include members from the African Society for Human Genetics, as well as researchers from many collaborating African nations, including Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, and Tunisia.

"H3Africa will be fundamentally different than previous investments in medical research in Africa," Charles Rotimi, director of NHGRI's Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health and president of the African Society of Human Genetics, said.

"In the past, many research projects simply took samples from Africa and conducted the studies back in Western labs," he said. "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."

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