Genomics Centre

Bringing affordable whole genome sequencing to Africa to facilitate health innovation

The vision to design and establish the first facility on the African continent capable of large-scale whole genome sequencing started in 2017, with the center being based at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) head offices in Cape Town. In February 2018, the BGI group, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute, and SAMRC signed a formal collaborative agreement, which ensured the future of this new state-of-the-art research facility. On 29th July 2019, the SAMRC Genomics Centre opened its doors to display the latest sequencing technology and cutting-edge facility design. This dedicated center builds on South Africa’s previous participation in the Human Heredity and Health in Africa initiative (H3Africa).

The BGI group were willing contributors to the project and offered equipment and a wealth of knowledge in the Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) arena. The BGI group have been at the forefront of the global scientific progress on genetic science and DNA sequencing. The Chinese genome sequencing company was formed in 1999, to participate in the Human Genome Project as a genetics research center.

Goal and Vision
The goal and vision for the SAMRC Genomics Centre is to grow South Africa’s capacity for whole human genome sequencing and engage in an Afrocentric approach to reducing South Africa’s burden of disease. Lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, stroke heart disease, diabetes and cancer and infectious diseases, particularly tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS are contributors to this burden. We need to better understand the factors that impact on South African’s health to improve our response to disease, which can be achieved through the better understanding of the genetic diversity in South Africa. As a developing nation, South Africa seeks to build a more sustainable, locally powered healthcare environment. Knowledge of the DNA sequence has become a crucial part of understanding and responding to disease. Africa has a very diverse gene pool, growing the genomic research and generating new knowledge on the African population is key. Genomic research paves the way for precision medicine and treatment. Precision Medicine is an emerging field, which considers an individual’s genetic variability in association with their environment and lifestyles. South Africans are exposed to medicine that have been developed outside of Africa and researched on a different gene pool, drug failure and adverse side effects could be curbed by better understanding effectiveness in the South African population.
Cost
The cost of NGS sequencing has always been a hurdle for researchers in South Africa. The SAMRC Genomics Center aims to lower the cost barrier, by offering affordable NGS services at a more centralized location. It will enable sustainable capacity development in both NGS and data science. We end with the hope that we will be able to establish a training facility which will enable us to host NGS workshops in both the wet lab processes and bioinformatic analysis.

Human Whole Genome Sequencing in South Africa - Article available on bioRxiv website.

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For general enquiry, feedback or quotations, please contact us
 

Bianca Sansom
Email: bianca.sansom@mrc.ac.za
Tel: +27 21 938 0463
Prof Craig Kinnear, PhD
Email: craig.kinnear2@mrc.ac.za
Tel: +27 21 938 0426
   
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