For years, I’ve heard the narrative about the human race beginning in Africa and that African genetics are unique. Well, given the pandemic happening across the globe, I started questioning the validity in those assessments; not just for an ego boost but for clarity on whether or not African DNA is beneficial to curing diseases. This led me to some very interesting information.
According to Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, Africans and people of Black African ancestry are the most genetically diverse people in the world. African genomes are not only the most diverse but are humanity’s oldest. Roughly 99 percent of evolutionary history began in Africa, and modern humans emerged there 200,000 years ago. 100,000 years later, many of our ancestors began intermarrying and reproducing across the globe. However, the vast majority of that genetic diversity remained in Africa.
The Director of the Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health at NIH, Charles Rotimi, advised the following:
“The continent of Africa represents what I would like to call the root and trunk of human evolutionary history.”
“We have lived the longest as humans on the African continent, and that has very, very important implications for understanding… how forces that existed on the continent helped shape present-day human genomes, either in terms of how to survive infectious diseases or survive the environment.”
Africans and African descendants are at a disadvantage, however, when it comes to drug treatment because we only represent 2% of the genetic samples used for pharmaceutical research. Pharmaceutical companies tend to manufacture drugs for the Western market, and the remains are oftentimes only available to Africa after they’ve lost their patent. Dr. Ene-Obong stated the following:
“Drugs are not even made with Africans in mind, they are not trialled clinically with an African population, so what you have is drugs with lower efficacy for African populations and with poorer safety profiles.”
Dr. Ene-Obong is combating this issue with the genetic research laboratory he set up in Lagos, Nigeria. Named after the 54 internationally recognized countries in Africa, 54gene is a laboratory that plans on expanding throughout the continent by partnering with pharmaceuticals and research programs. There, his team will research diseases like sickle cell, cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dementia, and more. By gathering information on the African genome, medical breakthroughs and discoveries that could change the globe will become a reality.
“Our goal is to make sure that people are being diagnosed and treated using similar standards of care that you’ll find in the UK or the US.”
“We are not trying just to be a Nigerian company… we are in talks with countries in East Africa, West Africa and South Africa.”
The moves being made on the continent have to be prophetic at this point because so much growth is happening. Given the global conditions of African people, I’m not surprised that we are locked out of Western pharmaceutical research, even though our genetics could possibly cure diseases. But as I’ve stated before on this blog, sovereignty is the only way Africans will be free or respected. And what. Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong is doing with his laboratory is a step in the right direction.
Until Next Time…
Munshi, N. (2020, March 5). How unlocking the secrets of African DNA could change the world. Retrieved March 21, 2020, from https://www.ft.com/content/eed0555c-5e2b-11ea-b0ab-339c2307bcd4
Olewe, D. (2019, November 12). How decoding African DNA could help fight disease. Retrieved March 21, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-50205190
Unlocking the power of the African Genome. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.54gene.com/index