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A South African Medical Scientist Plans to Develop a Genetic Database

Prof Ambroise Wonkam – a medical genetics professor at the Cape Town University in South Africa, says he plans to create a genetic database in Africa. He made the declaration in the first quarter of 2021 at ‘Nature’ which is a science journal.

The name of his project is “3MAG” in full ‘Three Million Africa Genomes.’ The inspiration for the project came upon the completion of his work on the impacts of genetic mutations on hearing mutilation and sickle-cell anemia, among other diseases in Africa.

He observed that Africa is the most genetically diverse continent adding that, in history, the genes hold many years.

Hindrances to African Genomic Database

The major hindrance to the African genomic database is inequity. Prof Ambroise Wonkam said that the healthcare system in Africa suffers a significant imbalance in financial support and research personnel providing small data and genomic applications.

He added that just a small portion of Africans traveled to Asia and Europe many thousands of years ago, accounting for just 2% of the global Africa genomics. The majority of this population is even African Americans.

Generally, other barriers to developing genetic databases in Africa include asymmetrical genetic medical practices, insufficient funding, inadequate instructional infrastructure, and poor strategies.

A Quick Look at the Need for Genomics in Africa

The development of a genetic database in Africa will help correct the inequalities that are already in existence.

The primary concern is correcting the prediction from using European tools for genomics can be deceptive for Africans.

There is also a need to correct the idea that it can be unreliable for schizophrenia or cardiomyopathies in Africans.

Africa holds the beginning of humanity from history, implying that African blood and DNA are over 300,000 years old or more.

The implication of this is that African genetic variation is higher and complex than that of other continents.

Plans for the Development of Genetic Database in Africa

Prof Ambroise Wonkam, alongside other African scientists, is already speaking with the government, professional organizations, and companies at all levels to tackle the existing disparity in Africa genomics.

The plan is also to achieve Prof Ambroise Wonkam’s objective of a three million African genomes (3MAG) database by the next ten years.

Prof Wonkam pointed out that the three million is just the least estimate, saying he wants an accurate database from all African countries.

Measuring up with the 500,000 genomes out of the 68 million populations that the UK Biobank aspires to achieve in 3 years, the three million fractions out of the 1.3 billion populations in African for the genetic variation in 10 years is okay.

Even though they will spend about $450 million every year for a project that will last a decade, many persons show interest in supporting the course.

Supporters for ‘the 3MAG’ Project

CPGR (Center for Proteomic and Genomic Research), among other biotech companies, is ready to accept the expansions from the 3MAG project.

Already CPGR, in partnership with Artisan Biomed, says they have issues with the African genomic database and are already expanding their research.

They plan on enhancing and personalizing care, treatment, and diagnosis related to the African genome.

Dr. Judith Hornby Cuff of Artisan Biomed says that they are happy about the news of the 3MAG project because it will provide an affordable and reliable healthcare system and research development in South Africa and Africa in general.

Among the aspiring supporters of the 3MAG project is the genomic scientist from the Inqaba Biotech, Pretoria – Dr. Aron Abera.

Inqaba Biotech provides researchers with genetic sequencing, among other services. Already, they have more than a hundred staff in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, and Mali.

They develop the genetic samples gathered from all these countries in South Africa.

According to Dr. Aron Abera, they expect to have laboratories in other African countries. The company’s problem now is a shortage of staff and infrastructures.

Final Words

Prof Ambroise Wonkam is thinking big when it comes to African biomes despite the apparent challenges.

The South African medical scientist from Cameroun – Prof Wonkam, was among the 2020 volunteers to research the pandemic, focusing on the genome database across African countries.

He works with other scientists from Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa to expand the African genetics library of references.

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