The J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) today announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the University of Limpopo (UL) in South Africa to expand ongoing research collaborations on a variety of levels including in human genomics and prostate cancer in indigenous African populations. The collaboration will be called the University of Limpopo (UL) – J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) Genomics Network.
As part of the new relationship, the institutions, along with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health, will convene a workshop and conference at the UL on May 30-June 1 titled, “Empowering Genomics in Southern Africa – Application to Infectious Disease.” At the meeting, the JCVI and NIAID will conduct a hands-on workshop on next-generation sequencing technologies and bioinformatics and host a conference focused on human genomics/genetics, bioinformatics, infectious disease, and viral and microbial genomics. Experts will also discuss their latest findings in infectious disease research. JCVI is one of three U.S. centers funded as part of NIAID’s Genomic Sequencing Centers for Infectious Diseases.
The JCVI’s Vanessa Hayes, Professor of Genomic Medicine and UL’s Philip Venter, Professor of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Turfloop Campus, have had a long-standing collaboration with both being involved in the Southern African Genome Project that culminated in the historic sequencing and publication of the first South African Genome in February 2010. South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu and four Southern African Bushmen were the subjects whose genomes were sequenced and analyzed. The new UL-JCVI Genomics Network will expand on this fruitful collaboration by formally enabling researchers at both institutions to utilize and learn from the experience and expertise of their colleagues.
Specific goals and projects established within the framework of the UL-JCVI Network include:
- Defining the extent of genomic diversity in the Khoisan and Bantu populations of Southern Africa and establishing a genomic profile of prostate cancer disparities within South African populations,
- Promoting the exchange of scientific ideas, information and technology as it relates to improving the understanding of human genetic diversity and genomic medicine (not excluding possible pathogen related genomic elevance), and
- Ensuring the protection of all human subject participants in the clinical research program by providing thorough and complete ethical review of the Research Studies.
The Network will also facilitate faculty and student exchanges, hosting visiting scholars and scholars in residence, and joint project, proposal and scientific manuscript development.
“It is crucial that Southern Africa be included in the world map of human genomics research to truly define not only the extent of human diversity, but also disease significance within the region,” says Vanessa Hayes. “Through the support from Dr. Venter and JCVI, together with the management at the University of Limpopo, my hope is that the UL-JCVI Genomics Network highlights the bidirectional benefits of building genomic bridges across nations.”
“The signing of the MOU between UL and JCVI is a major advance for UL as it will enable us to take a leading role in putting UL, SA and Southern Africa on the world map of human genomics,” says Philip Venter. “This agreement will help to ensure that the most rural and disadvantaged communities will have access to these new technologies, which in future will be the main component of comprehensive health care. With the support of Dr. Hayes and JCVI, I am confident that this new collaboration will develop to such an extent that Limpopo Province and all of SA and its people will, in the long run, benefit from it.”
Dr. J. Craig Venter, Founder and President, JCVI and his team at JCVI have had a long history of pioneering human genomics research beginning with the first draft human genome in 2001 and continuing with the sequencing and publication of the first complete diploid human genome in 2007. Other areas of expertise and leadership include the work of Karen Nelson, Ph.D., Director JCVI Rockville Facility, in cataloguing the diversity of microbes living on and in the human body. She and her team have been funded as part of the NIH’s Human Microbiome Project.
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Image courtesy of PLoS