The African Genomics Centre – a first for the African continent – is already under construction at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) head office in Cape Town, South Africa.
In February, SAMRC cemented its collaboration with the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), signing a formal agreement that guarantees an exciting future for this state-of-the-art research facility.
BGI is at the forefront of the global scientific progress on genetic science and DNA sequencing, while South Africa has identified an opportunity through this partnership to build the country’s capacity for whole human genome sequencing.
‘The development propels South Africa into a new era of medical research and means that we join a small, but growing, group of countries that are pioneering this type of innovation,’ says Professor Glenda Gray, SAMRC president. The signing ceremony took place on 16 February on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town.
Prof Gray comments, ‘This novel field of research harnesses the science of genomics for personalised medicine. Knowledge of the DNA sequence has become an important part of understanding disease. By establishing the sequence of an individual’s genetic material, it is possible to identify mutations which are specific to that person. These genetic tools will help us understand South Africa’s diverse gene pool and convey insights on treatments for common diseases like diabetes.’
The centre will be a vital national asset, able to contribute to better understanding factors that impact on the health of South Africans and inform strategies to improve their response to diseases. This means conditions that contribute to the heavy disease burden in the country – such as hypertension, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and cancer – can be diagnosed faster and more accurately. Treatments can also be delivered in a more targeted, effective and cost-efficient way.
Dr Li Ning, BGI’s chief development officer says the collaboration will strengthen bilateral relations between China and South Africa, as both countries have contributed to the facility in terms of research capacity, funding, equipment and other infrastructure.
‘BGI congratulates SAMRC on its commitment to scientific advancement. We have already learned much from each other and are truly enthusiastic about future scientific breakthroughs as well as the many benefits these will bring to Africa,’ Dr Li says.