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NIH Awards $17 Million in Grants to Augment Genomics Research in Africa

Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Last Updated: Sunday, October 20, 2013
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Africa research capacity to be enhanced through expanded H3Africa program.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded 10 new grants totaling up to $17 million over the next four years to support genomics research in Africa, as part of the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) program.

This set of grants is the second disbursement of H3Africa awards and brings the total amount of funding since the 2010 launch of the program to about $74 million.

In addition to genomics research, the new awards will support training of African genomic scientists and building scientific infrastructure on the continent. H3Africa is funded by a partnership between NIH and the United Kingdom's Wellcome Trust.

"These H3Africa awards demonstrate our continued commitment to furthering the capacity for genomics research on the African continent," said Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

Green continued, "Studying human diseases within populations with the greatest genetic variability and encouraging the contributions of our African colleagues should yield new insights about the role of genetics in health and disease."

The new awards include funding for two additional H3Africa collaborative centers, one that will study the risk factors for stroke and another that will study the role of the human vaginal microbiome in cervical cancer.

New individual research projects will study several other health conditions important in Africa, including neurological disorders, respiratory diseases, fevers of unknown origin, tuberculosis and African sleeping sickness.

Two H3Africa awards will support new biorepository pilot projects. The scaled-up H3Africa biorepositories will house the samples collected through H3Africa research projects and make them available to the entire research community.

In addition, the awards include the first grant being made for an H3Africa ethical, legal, and social implications component.

"We were pleased that the second round of applications for the NIH H3Africa program was of such high quality," said Jane Peterson, Ph.D., project coordinator for H3Africa and senior advisor to the NHGRI Office of the Director.

Peterson continued, "The new awards increase the number of countries participating in H3Africa and expand the range of health conditions being studied. The combined NIH and Wellcome Trust H3Africa program will now support research projects in 27 African countries and 93 collaborators throughout Africa."

"H3Africa is creating new opportunities for collaboration among genomics researchers around Africa and is achieving the program's goal to form a strong backbone of research capacity in Africa," said James Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which plans and implements trans-NIH initiatives of the NIH Common Fund, including H3Africa.

H3Africa is a global health program of the NIH Common Fund, and is coordinated by the NHGRI, in partnership with a number of other NIH institutes and offices. These include the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Institute of Nerological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the NIH Office of AIDS Research (OAR) and the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH).

H3Africa's goals are to enhance the capacity of African researchers to undertake cutting-edge research to advance understanding of the genomic and environmental determinants of common diseases, and in the long run, to use this knowledge to improve the health of African populations.

The newly funded H3Africa grants are awarded in the following categories (pending available funds):

Collaborative Centers

• African Collaborative Center for Microbiome and Genomics Research at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria, up to $4.16 million, four-year total
Principal Investigator: Clement Adebamowo, M.D., Sc.D.
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in Africa. This grant will focus on the epidemiology of cervical cancer and human papillomavirus infection. It addresses a high-impact public health challenge that affects women's health in Africa and the rest of the world. In addition to research, this center will provide post-doctoral training for qualified candidates from across Africa in research methods, epidemiology, bioinformatics, data management and laboratory methods. It also includes study of and training in social and behavioral research, which will be conducted through the Institute of Human Virology and the African University of Science and Technology, both in Nigeria, and the Center for Infectious Diseases Research in Zambia.

• Stroke Investigative Research & Educational Network at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, up to $2.37 million, four-year total
Principal Investigators: Mayowa Owolabi, M.D. and Bruce Ovbiagele, M.D.
Stroke is the leading cause of neurological hospital admissions in Africa and a leading cause of deaths on the continent. Researchers at this center will evaluate the genetic and environmental risk factors for stroke in Africa, along with training professionals and building research capacity.

Individual Research Projects

• Systems Biology for Molecular Analysis of Tuberculosis in Ethiopia at Addis Ababa University, up to $740,000, four-year total
Principal Investigator: Gobena Ameni, D.V.M., Ph.D.
There are 22 high-tuberculosis-burden countries that account for 80 percent of all active tuberculosis cases, and Ethiopia is one of them. Ethiopian pastoralist groups, in particular, are at increased risk for contracting infection, a recurrence of latent infection, and a high incidence of illness and death due to their high exposure to livestock that potentially increases the level of transmission of tuberculosis between livestock and people. Investigators at Addis Ababa University, in collaboration with scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., will build genomics capacity at the university to study transmission dynamics, strain diversity and molecular interactions of tuberculosis with its host.

• Host and Microbial Genetic Determinants of Febrile Illness in West Africa, Redeemer's University, Redemption City, Nigeria, up to $1.54 million, four-year total
Principal Investigator: Christian Happi, Ph.D.
Febrile illnesses are among the most common causes of morbidity and mortality in tropical developing countries. In this project, a team of researchers from Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and the U.S.A. will study the pathogens that cause fevers in rural Africa using new sequencing technologies and microbial metagenomics. This project will also enhance efforts for training, supporting and promoting cutting-edge genomics research on health in Africa through trainings at the Broad Institute and the West African Genomic Research Network sites.

• Clinical and Genetic Studies of Hereditary Neurological Disorders in Mali at University Hospital Center du Point G, Bamako, Mali up to $1.27 million, four-year total
Principal Investigator: Guida Landouré, M.D., Ph.D.
Hereditary neurological disorders are very disabling diseases that are under-studied in Africa. This study aims to clinically characterize these disorders in the Malian population to establish a comprehensive clinical description of the diseases in this region. The study will also identify gene mutations related to neurological diseases and provide training to Malian physicians and students.

• The Nasopharyngeal Microbiome and Respiratory Disease in African Children at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, up to $1.36 million, four-year total.
Principal Investigator: Mark Nicol, Ph.D. and Heather Zar, Ph.D.
Although respiratory infections are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in young children worldwide, little information is available as to which pathogens colonize the upper airways early in life and how they influence susceptibility or progression to disease. In this study, researchers will collect nasopharyngeal samples from African infants from birth through their first two years of life. They will use culture-independent approaches to identify which viruses and bacteria are present and how changes in colonization patterns and age are associated with the development of pneumonia and wheezing.

• Reprogramming of the Trypanosoma brucei epigenome during human infection: opportunities for new therapies at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa, up to $1.07 million, four-year total
Principal Investigator: Hugh Patterton, Ph.D.
African sleeping sickness is caused by a single-celled trypanosome parasite found in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and affects hundreds of thousands of individuals. The researchers hope to identify targets for the development of drug treatments by studying changes in the trypanosome's epigenome upon infection. The epigenome of an organism represents elements of inherited information encoded outside of the DNA sequence of its genome.

Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Research Project

• Exploring Perspectives on Genomics and Sickle Cell Public Health Intervention at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, up to $162,000, four-year total
Principal Investigator: Ambroise Wonkam, M.D.
The project will focus on the challenges of implementing genomic research in Africa represented by the psychosocial factors associated with disease burden. Their studies will consider the perspectives of scientists, health professionals, sickle cell disease patients and community populations dealing with the inherited blood disorder. The project will lay the groundwork for more extensive prospective societal implications research.

Pilot Biorepository Research Projects

• Establishment of an H3Africa Biorepository at Clinical Laboratory Services (pilot project) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, up to $246,000, two-year total
Principal Investigator: Ute Jentsch, Ph.D., School of Pathology
Clinical Laboratory Services aims to support the H3Africa project by providing services including processing, storing and distributing human samples used in H3Africa research projects.

• Integrated Biorepository of H3Africa Uganda (pilot project) at the Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Kampala, Uganda, up to $236,000, two-year total Principal Investigator: Moses Joloba, Ph.D.
This biorepository will annotate and store biospecimens, making them available for genomic discovery projects by H3Africa Consortium, African and international researchers.

In addition to the Common Fund and NHGRI, management and funding for the new grants are provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the Office of AIDS Research (OAR), and the Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH).

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