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NIH Seeks Info for H3Africa Grants

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) –The National Institutes of Health is currently planning new grants to establish genomics research infrastructure and studies in Africa, but to do so it says it now needs more information from research communities about the biospecimen and bioinformatics resources that are currently available.

The Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) program — a partnership between NIH, the Wellcome Trust, and the African Society of Human Genetics — seeks to catalyze and enable human genomics-based science in Africa, and will require focused biobanking and informatics resources that can operate together in a network.

"To the extent possible we are trying to develop what is essentially an Afrocentric plan, where the ideas, the identification of the issues, will all come from the African scientific community," Mark Guyer, director of NIH's Division of Extramural Research and acting deputy director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, told GWDN in an interview early this year. "The awards when they are made will be made directly to African scientists and institutions, and they will be the driving force."

An NIH white paper has recommended that the H3Africa initiative should establish one or more biorepositories and a bioinformatics network, and support training of African scientists in genomic research methodologies and genomics-related infrastructure. The paper also recommended that the awards be made directly to African institutions.

A bioinformatics network could support H3Africa by providing training and informatics capabilities, developing computational tools, and by enabling collaborative projects aimed at identifying genomic-environmental contributors to disease. Such a network could connect all of the H3africa grantees and other bioinformatics centers and support research and training across the continent, said NIH.

In an effort to determine how to fund such a network, NIH is requesting more information about existing African bioinformatics infrastructure and expertise, and about groups that have the expertise, infrastructure, and interest in using funding to organize an African bioinformatics network.

The biorepositories funded in the project would store, retrieve, distribute, and manage large sample collections. Because the project will focus on studying genetic-environmental interactions related to diseases, a repository would need to have facilities to receive human blood samples from African genomic research sites, and make transformed cell lines and DNA from the blood and cell lines. It would need to be able to receive and store blood, cell lines, and DNA safely and securely, and be able to distribute samples upon request.

To develop its grants, NIH said that it will need more information about existing African biorepository infrastructure and expertise, and information about groups that have such expertise and may be interested in building such a biorepository resource in Africa.

The H3Africa project has received a commitment from NIH of $5 million per year for five years and at least $12 million from the Wellcome Trust.

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