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Chronic disease research awarded funding

A new initiative to understand chronic disease in Africa has been awarded five years' funding by the Medical Research Council (MRC). The African Partnership for Chronic Disease Research (APCDR) is an international research partnership that assesses the burden and causes of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease in sub-Saharan Africa.

This MRC funding will allow researchers from the partnership to develop a sustainable platform to share resources and skills which will help develop long-term strategies for disease control and management in sub-Saharan Africa.

As treatment and management of infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis improves, medical researchers expect that non-infectious chronic diseases will become an increasingly important problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are expected to become the leading causes of morbidity and death in this region.

The APCDR will conduct research that will provide more reliable and precise information on disease burden, underlying aetiology and strategies for intervention.

"We don't fully understand the magnitude and distribution of risk factors for these diseases in sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr Elizabeth Young, investigator from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "Over the next five years, our partnership expects to collect detailed health and disease information and blood samples from over 24,000 individuals across 10 countries. This collection will generate a resource that will provide a unique framework for researchers in these countries."

In existing studies into these diseases throughout Africa, scientists have used a variety of methods and assessed only a small subset of risk factors. This small scale restricts any comparative studies across the region.

This partnership will develop the much needed, large-scale high quality comparable studies across a wide range of diseases and possible risk factors, spanning countries across sub-Saharan Africa. Importantly, this will also provide a platform for interventional research and ensure that African populations benefit from the on-going advances in genomics.

"The African Genome Variation project, a key endeavour of the APCDR, will be an important resource for Africa researchers." says Dr Manjinder Sandhu, lead investigator from Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge. "This will allow researchers to understand patterns of genetic diversity within sub-Saharan populations, as well as providing a global resource for genomic studies of diseases in Africa. If we want to have lasting benefits, the APCDR must provide mechanisms and infrastructure to share research resources, training and support with the next generation of researchers and scientific leaders in Africa."

"Understanding the cause and determinants of these diseases in sub-Saharan Africa is a fundamental step in developing strategies for diseases management and control," says Professor Pontiano Kaleebu, lead investigator from the MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit on AIDS. "In the context of epidemiological transition and the complex relation between risk factors for chronic infection and non-communicable disease, an integrated approach to our research is essential."

"For countries in sub-Saharan Africa to benefit from future progress in non-communicable disease research and genomics, there is a need to strengthen research capacity, training and collaboration across the region to ensure researchers can play a full part," says Professor Jean Claude Mbanya, lead investigator from the University of Yaounde, Cameroon. "This initiative will play an important role in piecing together the puzzle of non-communicable disease in Africa."

"The MRC is pleased to support such an innovative strategic partnership between UK scientists and centres of research excellence in sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr Wendy Ewart, MRC Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Strategy. "This award will provide a platform to enhance training and capacity building at the African centres as well as maximising outputs from world-leading collaborative research. Ultimately this will help researchers to develop effective strategies to tackle the grand challenge of non-communicable diseases in Africa."

Contact: Aileen Sheehy
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

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