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NHGRI to Fund New Africa Genomics Grants, Biorepositories

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Human Genome Research Institute has just issued two new funding opportunities for research institutions in Africa seeking to conduct genomics projects focused on diseases, building genomics infrastructure, and launching biorepositories around the continent for supporting research projects.

These new NHGRI awards will provide a total of up to $23.1 million through the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) program, a joint effort between NHGRI, Wellcome Trust, and the African Society of Human Genetics, that seeks to catalyze and enable human genomics-based science in Africa that is conducted by Africans.

One of these new opportunities will provide around $6.3 million over five years in grant funding for research projects that explore genomic, genetic, and environmental contributors to human health and diseases in Africa.

The other program will commit a total of $16.8 million funding through two phases for biorepositories, including $800,000 over two years for feasibility projects and $16 million over five years for the launch of up to three full-scale biorepositories.

The H3Africa effort aims to go beyond simply funding African disease research and will seek to improve the capabilities for doing genomics research projects and build up infrastructure in Africa.

"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. The awards when they are made will be made directly to African scientists and institutions, and they will be the driving force," Mark Guyer, NHGRI's Deputy Director and director of its Extramural Research program told GenomeWeb Daily News in early 2011 after the program was unveiled.

The grants seek to establish independent H3Africa research projects that will collaborate with and add a genomics component to ongoing projects supported by the US or funders such as the Wellcome Trust, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The range of topics researchers may explore is broad, but should generally be within the scope of genetic/environmental contributors to disease and health in Africa.

Examples of possible research areas include studies of contributors to non-communicable and communicable diseases; the contribution of the human microbiome to health and disease; Mendelian diseases, causative mutations, and modifier genes; and pharmacogenomics studies that identify genetic variants involved in responses to chemotherapy and other drugs used for treatment of cancer, malaria, HIV, and other infectious diseases.

The biorepositories efforts will seek to meet current challenges researchers have in Africa in trying to access samples, and to do so they will need to store, retrieve, distribute, and manage large-scale collections.

In the first phase, applicants will aim to show that they can feasibly provide a fully functional, scaled-up biorepository, and the second phase projects will seek to develop these resources. These biorepositories will be tasked with supporting the entire H3Africa Consortium, and will be required to deal with as many as 100,000 samples per year including blood and DNA in liquid, frozen, and dry forms. They also must be able to ramp up their abilities to receive and store these samples and distribute them throughout the consortium.

In August, NHGRI issued $36.9 million in new funding opportunities for H3Africa, including grants to create collaborative research centers, fund individual research projects, and create bioinformatics infrastructure to support the consortium.

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