Nurturing Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Capacity in Africa (BRECA)

David Kateete

Daudi JJingo

Irving Jordan

Graeme Mardon

Makerere University

Uganda

Bioinformatics is now integral to clinical and biomedical research. Without bioinformatics expertise, health research in Africa will remain suboptimal. In fact, researchers on the continent are stuck with Next Generation Sequencing data that they can barely analyze. The enormous need for bioinformaticians in Africa has attracted attention of funding agencies and there are examples of significant strides being made by the H3Africa initiative of the NIH and the Wellcome Trust. Uganda currently hosts four H3Africa supported consortia/projects namely: the “Collaborative African Genomics Network” (CAfGEN); the Integrated approach to the identification of genetic determinants of susceptibility to trypanosomiasis (TrypanoGEN); the H3Africa Bioinformatics network (H3BioNET); and the Integrated Bioreproistory of H3Africa Uganda (IBH3AU), all at Makerere University but there is no dedicated bioinformatics degree training program at the institution. To consolidate and sustain these initial gains, and to achieve a critical number of well-trained bioinformaticians in the long-term, sound training programs at African institutions are required. To contribute to the filling of this gap, we propose “Nurturing Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Capacity in Africa” (BRecA) program, which builds on the momentum of H3Africa supported consortia at Makerere University. BRecA will establish sustainable programs at Makerere University through these Specific Objectives: (1) To establish a Master's program in bioinformatics that will produce a critical mass of bioinformaticians. These will support local researchers in the analysis of high-throughput data. The MSc program will train ten students from Uganda and SSA. (2) To establish a doctoral program in bioinformatics aiming to produce critical thinkers in genomics and bioinformatics who can teach and perform independent research that is responsive to the disease burden on the continent. Two students from Uganda and/or SSA will be trained. (3) To provide postdoctoral training in bioinformatics that will enable two CAfGEN alumni (one Ugandan, one Botswanan) to transition into faculty and/or independent research leaders. (4) To establish a bioinformatics training center that will coordinate and oversee bioinformatics training at Makerere University. This center will be built around research, mentorship, and teaching collaborations, especially with ongoing H3Africa-supported consortia and other collaborations. BRecA leverages highly skilled local and international faculty to produce holistic bioinformaticians relevant to African needs. Our training themes emphasize research on Africa's human genetic diversity and its interaction with important diseases. The projected number of students to be admitted and trained (but not supported by BRecA) will be higher as some will self-sponsor while others may be supported by complementary programs interested in bioinformatics training. From our experience with the Master's program in Immunology that started in 2011 and has admitted approx. 30 applicants per year from Uganda and other African countries, BRecA programs will stay and thrive beyond 2022 after the funding.