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Medicine in Africa
54gene, an Africa-based research project, is reshaping medicine in Africa. It emerged in 2019 with the monumental goal of developing a database of African genomes that researchers could use to generate new vaccines for diseases unique to Africa. The organization’s targeted research focuses on genomic studies of non-communicable diseases, like cancer and sickle cell disease, and infectious diseases, like bacteria and parasites. To develop a genome reflecting Africa’s genetically diverse population, the 54gene biobank in Nigeria contains biological samples from the surrounding area.

The Need for African Genome Research

Currently, Caucasians are the most genetically researched, despite being a minority in the world population. At the time of 54gene’s launch, it had collected only 3% of genetic testing from Africa. The organization’s African genome research creates an opportunity to develop medicine unique to the African population. With technological advances, genetic testing is creating more precise and personalized medicine. It is 54gene’s mission to create a more equitable research pool and to include Africans in medical advances.

54gene’s recent funding has brought the project over $19 million, expanding its lab capabilities. The project received $4.5 million in seed funding and another $15 million in Series A funding. The cash flow into the project demonstrates the importance of their research the potential impact of this medical discovery. By funding this research, there is an acknowledgment of the gap in genetic testing and a means to address the disparity. The significant growth of the company is an investment in African healthcare and a phenomenon in global health advancements.

The Benefits of Genetic Mapping in Africa

The genotypes of Africans are the most genetically diverse in the entire world, and 54gene’s research has the potential for massive breakthroughs in developing new drugs tailored to their genome. The exclusion of Africans from genetic research has resulted in the exclusion of an entire continent from personalized medication. Fortunately, 54gene’s genetic mapping uses collected DNA samples to build drugs tailored to specific populations. The project has the potential of revolutionizing healthcare in Africa, with its long-term value increasing with technological advances in the medical field.

The organization aims to create research and co-develop drugs for diseases that disproportionately affect Africans. For example, records have determined that 92% of the world’s malaria cases occur in Africa. Customized medicine could lessen the effects malaria has on future generations of Africans. 54gene aims to not only produce research and drug trials but to also make it affordable. Its founder has a commitment to balancing the for-profit side of the business with the need to enhance medicine in Africa. Since the arrival of the pandemic, 54gene has also directed efforts to COVID-19 testing and screening for more immediate needs.

54gene is addressing major issues of inequality in the medical field and improving medicine in Africa. The organization’s African genome research is making strides in African healthcare. Its research has the potential to target non-communicable and infectious diseases that affect the African population on a larger scale. Not only is this research imperative, but it is a movement towards leveling the quality of medical treatment on a global scale.

Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr