Anil Shanker, senior vice president for Research and Innovation at Meharry, told the AP that he hopes the project bridges the gap in genetic information studied that comes from people of African descent.
“We are going to bridge that gap, and this is just the beginning,” Shanker said.
Meharry’s partners are just as excited about this development in research, as Lyndon Mitnaul, the executive director for Research Initiatives at Regeneron Genetics Center, told the AP, “You can imagine if these schools have such a resource, other academic institutions are going to want to collaborate with them.”
Even though people’s genomes are largely identical, scientists are motivated to understand the variations present in the human genetic code. In May, scientists published four studies relating to an effort to build a diverse reference genome which, at the time, included genetic material from 24 people of African descent. In this new project, Meharry will recruit Nashville area patients to donate their blood, which will be sent to the Regeneron Genetics Center, where it will be sequenced at no cost.
From there, the data will go into a repository at Meharry’s Diaspora Human Genomics Institute, and the database will be shared amongst HBCUs exclusively and institutions involved with the project in Africa. Outside researchers must contact these entities for access to this genetic information, which will be kept anonymous.
The University of Zambia in Africa as well as other HBCUs in the United States will recruit volunteers and the project’s organizers have said they are interested in working with universities, medical centers, and health departments in Africa. It is expected that enrollment in the project to take approximately five years.
James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry, told Science Magazine, “This is a historic partnership. Nothing like this has ever happened before, when multiple drug companies partner with an academic institution, especially an HBCU [historically Black college or university], to do something like this.”
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Source: Black Enterprise