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NHGRI Issues $36.9M for H3Africa Genomics RFAs

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Human Genome Research Institute has opened three new funding opportunities aimed at building up genomics infrastructure, expertise, and support for research efforts based in Africa.

The new grant programs, totaling $36.9 million over five years, are part of the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) project, a collaboration between NHGRI, the African Society of Human Genetics, and The Wellcome Trust in the UK.

Backed by a total of $53 million from the National Institutes of Health and $12 million from The Wellcome Trust, the project is intended to help African scientists begin to harness the capabilities of genomics, and to fuel studies of diseases that are important to Africa, as well as the rest of the globe.

The project's core goals are to increase the number of African researches trained in and using genomics technologies, to expand infrastructure such as bioinformatics, biorepository, and sample acquisition and storage tools, and to support researchers delving into the genetic roots of diseases.

"In H3Africa, African scientists will study the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to both infectious diseases like tuberculosis and common diseases such as diabetes and hypertension," Jane Peterson, H3Africa project director and associate director of NHGRI's Division of Extramural Research, said in a statement.

"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 at NHGRI, told GenomeWeb Daily News in an interview earlier this year.

The largest of these grant programs will provide $18.75 million to create collaborative research centers that bring together scientists from several institutions and countries to work in genomics, genetics, and environmental research, research training, administrative training, and career support.

These studies will dive into the genetic and environmental contributors to non-communicable and communicable diseases, how the human microbiome contributes to health and disease, Mendelian diseases on the continent, and pharmacogenomics studies focused on Africans.

The second new program will provide a total of $6.25 million to support research from individual investigators who will add a genomics component to an existing disease-based research program.

The third project will provide $3.1 million in 2012 and $8.8 million over the following four years to fund one award aimed at improving the bioinformatics infrastructure that will be necessary to conduct more genomics research in Africa.

This grant will develop an H3Africa Bioinformatics Network that will support the overall consortium of collaborative centers and research groups that will be funded by the project. This network also will foster connectivity, interaction, and coordination between African genomics researchers, and will provide bioinformatics training and research support services.

In order to maximize the global impact of advances in genetics, genomics, and related fields on disease research, developing countries must be involved, but African populations are "substantially underrepresented in genomics and environmental research endeavors," NHGRI explained in its request for applications.

For example, of the thousands of genetic studies completed to date, around 75 percent were conducted exclusively in populations of European descent, and only a fraction of the studies that included non-European participants came from Africa, according to NHGRI.

"The paradox of limited genomics research conducted in Africa and the centrality of contemporary African populations for our understanding of human evolution and population genetics has been widely noted," the institute stated in the RFA.

NHGRI said it plans to issue another RFA in the near future to set up four feasibility studies that will "lay the foundation for an H3Africa Biorepository. In addition, there will be a small-grant program RFA issued in fiscal year 2012 and funded in fiscal year 2013 to support research that will focus on the societal implications of genomics in Africa.

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