The African Genomics Centre – a first for the African continent – is already under construction at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) head office in Cape Town.

Back row: Dr Huanming Yang, Chairman of BGI and Professor Jefferey Mphahlele, Vice President SAMRC Front Row: Dr Li Ning, Chief Development Officer, BGI and Professor Glenda Gray, President of the SAMRC

This week, the SAMRC cemented its collaboration with the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) through the signing of a formal agreement that guarantees an exciting future for this state-of-the-art research facility.

BGI is at the forefront of the global scientific progress on genetic science and DNA sequencing, while South Africa has identified an opportunity, through this partnership, to build the country’s capacity for whole human genome sequencing.

“The development propels South Africa into a new era of medical research and means that we join a small, but growing, group of countries that are pioneering this type of innovation,” said Professor Glenda Gray, President of the SAMRC. The signing ceremony took place 16 February on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town.

Said Prof Gray: “This novel field of research harnesses the science of genomics for personalised medicine. Knowledge of the DNA sequence has become an important part of understanding disease. By establishing the sequence of an individual’s genetic material, it is possible to identify mutations which are specific to that person. These genetic tools will help us understand South Africa’s diverse gene pool and convey insights on treatments for common diseases like diabetes.”

Dr Li Ning, Chief Development Officer, BGI and Professor Glenda Gray, President of the SAMRC

The centre will be a vital national asset, able to contribute to the better understanding of factors that impact on the health of South Africans and inform strategies to improve their response to diseases.  This means that conditions that contribute to our heavy burden of disease in the country – such as hypertension, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and cancer – can be diagnosed faster and more accurately, and treatments delivered in a more targeted, effective and cost-efficient way.

Dr Li Ning, Chief Development Officer, BGI, said that the collaboration is positive for science and it will strengthen bilateral relations between China and South Africa, as both countries have contributed to the establishment of the facility through research capacity, funding, equipment and other infrastructure needed to operate the centre.

“BGI congratulates the SAMRC on its commitment to scientific advancement and for having in place the building blocks that this type of initiative requires. We have already learned much from each other and from what we respectively bring to the collaboration as partners. We are truly enthusiastic about the scientific breakthroughs we can look forward to as well as the many benefits they will afford to South Africa and Africa,” said Dr Li.