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Institute to support Nigeria, others with research collections

FILE: Malian researchers get dressed to conduct a COVID-19 coronavirus test at the University Clinical Research Center of Bamako, on March 19, 2020. Photo: AFP

FILE: Malian researchers get dressed to conduct a COVID-19 coronavirus test at the University Clinical Research Center of Bamako, on March 19, 2020. Photo: AFP

The Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria has collected and stored no fewer than 900,000 samples of blood, urine, stool, breast milk, tissues, nasal swaps, serum and Deoxyribonucleic acid in its biorepository for clinical and research purposes.

The biorepository provides support to researchers from seven countries within West Africa under the Human, Heredity and Health Consortium.

Samples and DNA collected are stored as resources to support genomic and translational research.

The countries are Nigeria, Ghana, Benin Republic, Mali, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Gambia.

A biorepository is a facility that collects, catalogues, and stores samples of biological material for research. Biorepositories collect and manage specimens from animals, plants, and other living organisms.

Speaking in an interview with our correspondent, the acting Head for IHVN, Mrs Petronilla-Jean Ozumba, said bio-repositories are set up to gain more insight into what causes diseases – genomic, translational and environmental determinants.

Mrs Ozumba, who is also the biorepository manager at IHVN said one of the differences between a regular laboratory storage facility and bio-repositories is that there are some ethical, legal and social considerations before collecting samples from a patient or a donor.

“Consent is asked for and obtained before samples are collected from donors or participants and stored for researchers to use. Researchers will use your blood or sample, to conduct investigations or research. It could be research into HIV, tuberculosis, COVID-19, or Ebola.

“When we initiated the set-up of the biorepository, our laboratory was like the basic laboratory but we implemented infrastructural, administrative and technical upgrades to maintain international standard requirements. One of these is the segregation of activities; creating spaces for office, sample receipt, sample processing and archival spaces.

“You also create spaces for processing samples because you are going to be receiving different types of samples and when those samples come in, some of them need to be segregated into derivatives. For example, if you collect blood, you may process it into plasma, serum DBS, and DNA. Plasma or serum is more durable than storing a whole blood sample.

“Part of the goal of the biorepository is to maintain sample integrity, maintaining sample in its original condition as long as possible so they are not contaminated and their quality is not compromised. So, the expectations of every biorepository are to collect samples and store them, even for up to ten years and retain the quality such that it is similar to when the sample was obtained.”

“Bio-repositories can also bank plants and environmental samples, expanding further into environmental samples is gaining momentum because of the effect of the environment on the health of the populace. Here, the bio-repository plays a role to collect samples and make them available to researchers to investigate, explore, evaluate and analyse samples to bring or create more information and more knowledge that is how bio-repositories aid science.”

“African scientists that want to do any research can now approach and request samples and data through a committee -Data Bio-specimen Access Committee, after meeting the criteria under the H3Africa Consortium.

According to her, operating a biorepository is very demanding in terms of funding.

“For instance in the archival room in the bio-repository, you must make sure there is a power supply, which is capital intensive, you must provide different layers of backup to secure samples and have a pool of trained scientists with diverse training to man the biorepositories.

“You will make sure that the lab is secured. Infectious samples can be utilised especially in this era of bioterrorism. You must make sure the samples are secured because the biorepositories are custodians of the samples deposited in their banks and researchers trust us to secure their samples.

“Biorepositories are critical resources that not only support research, facilitate response to epidemics, pandemics, also advance science.”