Press release

First recipients of research grants to support genomic studies in Africa announced

African scientists will conduct genomic research on kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, tuberculosis and African sleeping sickness through inaugural grants of the Human Heredity and Health in Africa Consortium (H3Africa).

The grants were announced by two funding organisations, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Wellcome Trust. The organisations also awarded grants for the development of an African bioinformatics network and two pilot biorepositories, which are banks that maintain biospecimens for future scientific investigation.

The Wellcome Trust and NIH are working together on the H3Africa project, which aims to improve the health of Africans through the study of genomics and environmental determinants of common diseases. The H3Africa initiative will help develop expertise among African scientists, foster increased collaboration among African investigators, enhance the infrastructure for genomics research in Africa, and contribute to training the next generation of African researchers in the use of contemporary genomic approaches in the study of important health problems.

Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, said, "If we are to help tackle the growing burden of disease in Africa, it is important that we build capacity within the continent for African researchers and their institutions in order to understand the genetic and environmental causes of illness. The geographical breadth of participating institutions shows that H3Africa is about doing just this, enabling the scientists themselves to drive forward the African research agenda."

"H3Africa aims to transform the way science is conducted in Africa, by creating a sustainable research infrastructure and catalysing the use of advanced genomic technologies to improve our understanding of a variety of diseases," said NIH Director Francis Collins. "This is particularly relevant because Africa is the original cradle of all humanity, and in this era of expanded global travel and communication, it is becoming increasingly clear that we must think beyond our borders when it comes to understanding human biology and improving health."

NIH has committed $25 million of grant support over five years, contingent on the availability of funds, and the Wellcome Trust has committed almost $13 million over five years.

"With support from these H3Africa grants, the African scientific community will be empowered to make key breakthroughs on a set of important diseases," said Eric Green, NHGRI director. NHGRI administers H3Africa on behalf of NIH.

"These grants will facilitate creation of the necessary infrastructure and research capacity to conduct cutting-edge science in African institutions. The genomic and clinical resources generated by H3Africa investigators will facilitate studies of the environmental, cultural and genetic determinants of diseases that are important to Africans and other human populations."

"H3Africa is certain to have profound and lasting effects on the landscape of genomics research in Africa," said Charles Rotimi, director of the trans-NIH Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health. "This program will enable African researchers to study African populations, to solve African problems and to train the next generation of African scientists."

The inaugural H3Africa projects were announced at a meeting of the principal investigators, representing 22 African countries, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

NIH-funded research projects
1. Principal Investigator: Akin Abayomi, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Development of Africa H3 biorepositories to facilitate studies on biodiversity, disease and pharmacogenomics of African populations

2. Principal Investigator: Alash'le G Abimiku, Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria, Abuja
IHVN H3 African Biorespository (I-HAB) Initiative

3. Principal Investigators: Dwomoa Adu, University of Ghana Medical School, Accra and Akinlolu Ojo, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
H3Africa Kidney Disease Research Network

4. Principal Investigator: Dissou Affolabi, National Hospital for Tuberculosis and Pulmonary Diseases, Cotonou, Benin
RAFAgene: Contribution of genetic variation to pharmacokinetic variability and toxicity in patients undergoing multi-drug tuberculosis treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa

5. Principal Investigator: Nicola Mulder, University of Cape Town, South Africa
H3ABioNet: A Sustainable African Bioinformatics Network for H3Africa

6. Principal Investigator: Michele Ramsay, University of the Witwatersrand and NHLS, Johannesburg
Genomic and environmental risk factors for cardiometabolic disease in Africans

Wellcome Trust-funded research projects
7. Principal Investigator: Bongani Mayosi, University of Cape Town, South Africa
The RHDGen Network: Genetics of rheumatic heart disease and molecular epidemiology of Streptococcus pyogenes pharyngitis

8. Principal Investigator: Enock Matovu, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
TrypanoGEN: An integrated approach to the identification of genetic determinants of susceptibility to trypanosomiasis

9. Principal Investigator: Albert Amoah, University of Ghana, Accra
Burden, spectrum and etiology of type 2 diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa