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Kenyan researcher compiles Africans’ genetic data

A project that will compile genetic data of Africans living in the US and make it freely accessible for medical research was launched last month.

Geoffrey Siwo, a postdoctoral researcher at Dartmouth College in the US, created the United Genomes Project, which seeks to help researchers to develop personalised medicines for Africans.

“Africa faces the highest burden of diseases but medicines are developed in the US or in Europe, often without taking into account the effect that genetics have on medicines. Some people will develop side-effects. Unfortunately less than 10 per cent of genetic data available in the world is from Africans,” says the Kenya-born computational biologist.

“If we can provide Africans’ genetic data, researchers can develop drugs that are relevant to them,” he says.

The project will initially compile data for  at least 1,000 Africans living in the US.

“The US has large communities of Africans of different nationalities. It will be cheaper and efficient to do it here,” he says.

Participants can use a US$100 test that uses saliva to collect the genetic data. A private company analyses the saliva and participants have to sign a form on the project’s website authorising Siwo and his colleagues to retrieve their test results from the company and upload it on the genomes database.

Participants will be able to complete the forms only when the researchers have received ethical approval in the US.

The researchers will also be crowdsourcing the analysis of the data to expedite “the development of medical discoveries that are relevant for Africa”.