In addition to providing high-resolution HLA typing, the partnership will create a data repository that integrates and makes available data generated through next-generation sequencing as well as complementary donor information.

Reinhard Hiller of CPGR and Alana James of The Sunflower Fund unveiled the new partnership and technology at the CPGR headquarters in Cape Town

For patients with debilitating blood disorders, such as Leukemia or sickle cell disease, stem cell transplants are often the only realistic chance for a cure. The tissue selection relies on the careful matching of a donor’s immunological profile with that of a patient’s to increase transplant success and avoidance of unwanted side effects.

Using state-of-the-art molecular techniques, this process can today be guided in a precise manner, akin to using high-resolution photography in search of a person’s biological twin. While success rates are in the upper quartiles in the developed world, they remain dire in Africa for at least two reasons: Stem cell typing isn’t routinely done at high resolution, and the number of donors registered on existing registries is low.

CPGR is a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing state-of-the-art ‘omics’ services to SA’s life sciences and biotech communities, originating from an initiative by the South Africa Department of Science and Technology (DST). The organisation has created a cutting-edge genomics platform, including next generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, and has opted to make high-resolution typing solutions available for donor typing in Africa. To date, it has implemented a high-resolution (6-loci) and highest-resolution (11-loci) application in its partnership with The Sunflower Fund.

“Based on our experience in running a diversity of NGS applications, we were in a good position for expanding our offering to include high-resolution HLA typing,” said Dr Lindsay Petersen, Genomics Manager. “Through our partnership with Lancet Laboratories, we are able to make this high-end solution available immediately across SA and in 15 African countries”, added Dr Petersen.

Lancet transports the blood samples, now going into Africa.

“Research shows that the genetic ‘distances’ between African populations are greater than those observed between European populations,” said Alana James, CEO of The Sunflower Fund. “This genetic diversity poses practical challenges to find HLA-matched unrelated donors. Our partnership with CPGR enables us to test at higher resolution molecular (DNA) level testing which is in line with international best practice thereby reducing cost and time implications in the search for a match for a patient,” she added.

She explained that chances of finding a genetic match are currently 1 in 100 000 – a needle in a haystack. “This new technology now shows us which haystack to look in,” she explained.

“The partnership with TSF allows us to transform our technical capabilities into a social-impact delivering value proposition. Through our interaction with The Sunflower Fund and the World Marrow Donor Association we realised the disparity between international best practice and the technologies used in Africa currently,” said Dr Reinhard Hiller, CPGR’s managing director.

“Through the aggregation of information-rich sequencing data, we will unravel subtle genetic differences that were previously uncharacterised in particular in individuals with African and mixed ancestral heritage. This will facilitate the development of innovative solutions to further improve the quality of tissue typing and donor/recipient matching,” he explained.

This new technology can impact a range of conditions, from cancer (specifically leukemia) to diabetes, sickle cell disease, hereditary blindness and Alzheimer’s.

“This is a phenomenal day for science, for partnerships and for patients,” James concluded