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Can genomics improve health in Africa? Experience from sickle cell disease in Tanzania

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  • UserProfessor Julie Makani Associate Professor, Department of Haematology and Blood Transfusion, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences
  • ClockTuesday 24 November 2020, 18:00-19:30
  • HouseGoogle Meets.

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Sickle cell disease (SCD) is considered a model disease for genomic research, as it is a single-gene disorder, causing high morbidity and mortality. The first report of gene therapy to cure SCD was from France in 2017, demonstrating the clinical applicability of genomics to improve health and cure disease. The highest public health burden of SCD in the world is in Africa (80% of 300,000 annual births), and there is concern that not only do individuals in Africa not have access to existing interventions, but they will also not likely have access to these new gene-based curative therapies. Therefore, countries in Africa have to develop a strategy to achieve two goals: the first goal is the establishment of health programmes that will provide universal access to effective evidence-based health interventions to all individuals with SCD whilst simultaneously pursuing the second goal, which is to conduct research that will lead to curative interventions using gene-based approaches. Tanzania is establishing a national public health programme for SCD and through a genomic programme, successfully conducted one of the first genome-wide association studies in SCD in Africa (n=1700; 2.4 million SNPs). The aim is to conduct gene therapy trials to cure SCD in Tanzania and use the public health system to make this intervention accessible.

Speaker Profile:

Professor Julie Makani is a senior lecturer and specialist physician in the Department of Haematology and Blood Transfusion at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), in Tanzania, Africa. Here, she established one of largest single-centre study cohorts for sickle cell disease in the world. Prof Makani is Principal Investigator of the Sickle Pan African Research Consortium (SPARCO) within the SickleInAfrica network, the Co-Principal Investigator of SickleGenAfrica, and the MUHAS site Co-Principal Investigator for H3A BioNet. She is a Fellow of the Tanzania Academy of Sciences. In 2011, Prof Makani received the prestigious Royal Society Africa Award for her research and contributions to tackling sickle cell disease, a prevalent and debilitating health issue in the African continent. In 2019, she was inducted into the list of BBC 100 Women. Prof Makani is currently working on the application of genomic research to improve health and find a cure for sickle cell disease.

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