A better treatment for African people thanks to their DNA

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While Black Africans make up 17% of the world population, in scientific studies on genetics, they only account for 2% of the collected samples. This project looks at initiatives born in Africa in order to address this imbalance.

  • €9,056 Budget in Euros
  • 2020 Final release date
  • 3 Round winner
  • 4 Locations

A better treatment for African people thanks to their DNA

While Black Africans make up 17% of the world population, in scientific studies on genetics, they only account for 2% of the collected samples. This project looks at initiatives born in Africa in order to address this imbalance.

78% of subjects participating in genetic studies are white people of European descent. Globally, however, they represent only 16% of the world's population. Among the “neglected populations”, the sub-groups represented in genetic studies, there are Asians with 10%, black Africans who represent 2%, Hispanics with 1% and 1% for the rest of the sub-categories. This is the result of a study that was conducted by the Professor Sarah Tishko, evolutionary geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania, published in the scientific journal Cell in March 2019. This imbalance has consequences for the effectiveness of drugs in under-represented groups.

Greater racial diversity in samples would help advance research for all groups of
populations by expanding the genetic bases of diseases, according to Luis Quintana Murci. This Franco-Spanish biologist, research director at the CNRS and population geneticist, has worked for fifteen years with under-represented groups, in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands but also in Gabon and Cameroon. In its wake, teams of researchers are trying to put these under-represented groups at the heart of their research, especially in Africa.

In Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria, Abasi Ene-Obong has created 54gene, a biotechnology start-up, whose objective is to constitute the first entirely African genetic bank. 100,000 samples should be analyzed by the end of the year 2020. The company is all the more ambitious given that the African continent has the highest genetic diversity in the world. This biobank will then be used to fuel medical research on diseases with a high African prevalence such as sickle cell disease - a disease that affects red blood cells and causes breathing difficulties - or on non-communicable diseases.

In Nigeria, but also in ten African countries, a network of geneticists has been set up through H3Africa (Human, Heredity & Health Africa). Among them, the Collaborative Network of African Geneticists (Cafgen), a working group that brings together researchers from four different countries, including Uganda and Botswana, and which focuses its research on HIV and tuberculosis in children. Most of the studies that exist to date have been done with adult, non-African populations. Yet each year, 2 million new cases are reported in sub-Saharan Africa, including half a million children. This project is done in collaboration with the African Genome Variation Project, supported by a British research center.

To collect the necessary genetic data, this project targets two pediatric clinics, in Botswana and Uganda. In Kampala, the Baylor College of Medicine manages the foundation for children. Each year, around 5,000 patients are tested there for HIV, more than half of whom are under the age of fifteen. The results are then analyzed by Makerere University, which is located next to the foundation. Meeting them allows the project to report about the concrete results of genetic research that is more inclusive and based on traditionally under-represented groups.

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