Africa’s first-ever genome sequencing to be carried out by scientists in Ghana

  • as GhGenome project officially launches

The Director of Ghana’s Genome Project (GhGenome), Professor Fiifi Ofori-Acquah, has been awarded a US$3million grant by the National Institute of Health (NIH) of the United States of America to sequence the “whole genome DNA” of children with sickle-cell disease in Ghana.

Genome sequencing, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), is a laboratory method that is used to determine the entire genetic makeup of a specific organism or cell type. This method can be used to find changes in areas of the genome. These changes may help scientists understand how specific diseases, such as sickle-cell, form.

The genome sequencing studies will be performed on about 500 Ghanaian children with sickle-cell and enrolled in the Sickle Cell Disease Genomic of Africa (SickleGenAfrica).

The development will be the first population sequencing project in Africa.

Speaking at the official launch of the Ghanaian Genome Project on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 in Accra, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, said the exercise promises to lead Ghana into the genomics revolution that is transforming how patients are cared for in more advanced countries.

Encouraging leadership of the GhGenome project to take advantage of “this unique opportunity” to build capacity in bioinformatics – specifically in the area of human genomics – she said population genome sequencing requires high-end bioinformatics to assemble the millions of newly re-sequenced nucleotides into a reference Ghanaian genome which can be compared with genomes of other populations.

Again, describing the project that was launched by Daasebre Ayimadu Kantomanto, Okyeman Gyasehene and Kwabenghene on behalf of the Okyehene, Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin, as a “landmark genomics project”, Professor Appiah Amfo declared that: “It is indeed our duty as Ghanaians to help decode the DNA we carry, to better understand our risks of developing many diseases including sickle-cell disease, breast and prostate cancer”.

Director of the GhGenome project, Professor Ofori-Acquah – who’s also Director of the West African Genetic Medicine Centre (WAGMC) and Dean of the School of Biomedical and Allied Health Sciences (SBAHS) at the College of Health Sciences at University of Ghana, bemoaned how a large swathe of Ghanaians are suffering from genetic disorders because the country’s health system lacks the capacity to diagnose these diseases thoroughly.

“So, for the majority of these patients, it is a big problem for the family: because a child is born, his or her hands are shaking uncontrollably, they haven’t spoken in four years, they can’t sit still, they are hyperactive because we don’t have the capacity to understand the molecular basis of the disease, and more often not we blame other factors for this,” he stated during a lecture he delivered on the Ghanaian Genome Project.

According to him, over 400 children are being diagnosed in Ghanaian hospitals with leukemia due to genetic disorders every year; and again, from 1995 – 2021 over 9,000 babies were identified to have sickle-cell disease after screening half a million babies.

“This represents what we call, in our field, a major developmental problem,” he lamented. “It’s therefore our duty to decode the mutations which cause these rare genetic diseases in this country, so that parents and families can be spared from suspicion/accusation of being responsible for the disease. We don’t have that much power as individuals to make somebody get a genetic disease. The time for us to rally together and create a situation wherein we can help families with rare genetic disorders is now,” he urged.

GhGenome Project

The Ghanaian Genome (GhGenome) Project is a genetics health-awareness initiative to educate the general Ghanaian population about the importance of genetics in health, wellbeing and diseases. The project is focused on four main areas: a nationwide public lecture series on the Ghanaian Genome; an in-country free screening of genetic diseases – specifically for sickle-cell conditions, breast and prostate cancer; a postgraduate genetics training programme, including the first of-a-kind MSc Genetic Counselling programme which has already begun; and sequencing the DNA of 1,000 Ghanaian children with severe genetic disorders.

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