H3Africa Community Spotlight – Ruth Nanjala
June 13, 2022

Genetic risk scores could predict disease in Africans


 – Wits University

Using genetic risk scores to predict which individuals have a higher risk genetically of developing a particular disease is set to revolutionise medicine.

The genetic risk scores (GRS) approach to predicting disease risk enables early detection and treatment in a personalised way.

GRS has shown significant progress and potential in European populations. However, applying the approaches developed from European data to African populations shows that GRS are 4.5 times less accurate. This is partly due to the fact that people of African ancestry account for only 1.1% of the global participants in genomic studies.

Tinashe Chikowore SBIMB DPHRU 600x300

A study by scientists at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB), with colleagues in Uganda and the UK, set out to understand how compiling genetic information into genetic risk scores from African Americans, Europeans, and multiple ancestries (Asians, Europeans and African Americans) could help identify people who are likely to have high and low lipid levels in African populations.

Lipid (fats) levels refer to the amount of cholesterol and fats (called triglycerides) in the blood. These measurements give doctors a snapshot of lipids in a person’s blood. Lipids such as cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood can clog arteries, making a person more likely to develop heart disease.

The study, titled Transferability of genetic risk scores in Africa, was published in Nature Medicine on 2 June 2022.

This is essential for the early identification of people who are most likely to have elevated levels of lipids in the future.

These individuals can then benefit from early interventions that will reduce their chances of having heart and blood vessel-related diseases in the future.

Dr Tinashe Chikowore, a Wellcome Trust Fellow in the SBIMB and in the Wits-South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Developmental Pathways to Health Research Unit (DPHRU) co-authored the paper with Professor Segun Fatumo from the African Computational Genomics Group (TACG), the Uganda Virus Research Institute, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Dr Abram Kamiza, a scientist at the SBIMB and TACG, was first author of the study.