The Wellcome Trust has joined forces with the US National Institute of Health (NIH) to coordinate a major new genetics study in Africa.
The five year 'Human Heredity and Health in Africa' study (or 'H3Africa') will examine genetic and environmental factors underlying the development of chronic diseases.
Employing genome scanning and sequencing techniques, the study will be coordinated under two groups. One is hoping to contribute to knowledge of major communicable diseases such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)/AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), tuberculosis and malaria. The second is examining non-communicable conditions such as cancer, stroke, heart-disease and diabetes.
The study will attempt to make a break from previous medical research on African populations by moving the analysis out of Western labs and into regional research facilities - African research has suffered a brain drain as talented individuals head for the West, and it is hoped that this initiative will build local capacity, and help move away from 'scientific colonialism' where Africa serves merely as a source of samples for foreign researchers to analyse at their home institutions in the West.
With a projected $38 million (£25m) in funding available for grants to African researchers, and support being provided by the African Society for Human Genetics, Charles Rotimi, the director at the NIH's Centre for Research on Genomics and Global Health, stated in a press release that: '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'. A minimum of $12m is due to be provided by the Wellcome Trust.
The hope is that the project will finally bring some of the benefits of advanced genetics research to the world's poorest continent. Additionally, by tapping into the enormous genetic diversity found across the African continent, it is also hoped that revealing information will be extracted from rare genetic variations that will be of relevance to understanding of diseases prevalent across the world. As Francis Collins, the Director of the NIH puts it: 'Africa is the cradle of humanity, so things that we learn in Africa will undoubtedly have broad implications for peoples in all other parts of the planet'.