Collaborative African Genomics Network (CAfGEN)

Principal Investigators: Gabriel Anabwani, Kekitiinwa Rukyalekere, Moses Joloba, Oathokwa Nkomazana, Sununguko W. Mpoloka, Graeme Mardon

Institute: Botswana – Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence, Botswana; Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation, Uganda; Baylor College of Medicine, U.S.A.; Makerere University, Uganda & University of Botswana, Botswana

Scientific Description: Advanced genetic and genomic technologies promise to transform our understanding and approach to human health and disease. Such genomic analyses are now common in Western populations of European descent. Studies of host genetic factors underlying long-term non-progressors of HIV infection have led to new therapies through the identification of loci that are important to in vivo control of virus pathogenicity. Similar studies of host genetic factors influencing active TB infection have also identified important loci that could significantly impact the future development of more effective therapeutic and prophylactic strategies. Most of these studies were undertaken in non-African, adult populations, although there are more than 2 million new cases of HIV and HIV-TB in Sub-Saharan Africa every year, including more than half a million children. HIV-infected children - who differ from their adult counterparts in their route of acquisition, clinical course, and pathophysiology – have been conspicuously absent, although they potentially have more to ultimately contribute and gain from therapeutic advances.

The Collaborative African Genomics Network (CAfGEN) aims to redress this scientific imbalance by integrating genetic and genomics technologies to probe host factors that are important to the progression of HIV and HIV-TB infection in sub-Saharan African children. The network will incorporate five sites – the Botswana and the Uganda Children’s Clinical Centers of Excellence will provide clinical expertise for patient recruitment; Makerere University and the University of Botswana will provide local molecular genetic expertise; and Baylor College of Medicine will provide access to genomics expertise and resources that will ultimately be transitioned to African researchers and institutions in a sustainable manner. The CAfGEN research agenda includes the recruitment of prospective and retrospective cohorts of HIV and HIV-TB infected children; the development of core genomic facilities for sample processing and storage; candidate gene re-sequencing, HLA allelotyping and whole-exome sequencing of patients at the extremes of HIV disease progression; and integrated genomic analyses of active TB progression and associated clinical outcomes using expression quantitative trait loci. These projects will be undertaken through an extensive training and career development plan that will also see significant upgrades in local genomics infrastructure. In so doing, CAfGEN will create a unique, highly synergistic African alliance that can contribute novel and important mechanistic insights to pediatric HIV and HIV-TB disease progression while establishing sustainable genomics technology, expertise, and capacity on the African continent.