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Charles Rotimi: Powering up African genetics research

Kat: Charles Rotimi is the director of the Centre for Genomics and Global Health within the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute at Bethesda, Maryland in the US, and a distinguished NIH investigator. He’s also the founder of the African Society of Human Genetics and the driving force behind a major genomics project called Human Heredity and Health in Africa, or H3Africa, which he helped to establish ten years ago and is now wrapping up.

Kat: He’s certainly come a long way from his birthplace in Benin City in Nigeria, where he grew up as a curious child with a long-standing interest in science. Charles studied biochemistry at the University in his home town, but quickly realised that if he wanted to pursue his scientific training, he’d have to go further afield. He ended up in the US getting a PhD in epidemiology, including what was at the time the nascent field of genomics. From there, he ended up getting interested in a project called HapMap – a spin-off from the Human Genome Project, which allowed researchers to start teasing out the associations between genes and health.

Charles: My development from there in terms of genomics really started in my first participation in the HapMap project, where I engaged the African community, three African communities specifically, for the international HapMap project. That is the Yoruba community in Nigeria, and the Maasai community in Kenya and also the Luhya community in Kenya. And I think since then you can see that I was bitten by the genomic bug and it’s been a wonderful journey since then. Yeah.