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Banking on Science

International Partnership Creates a sub-Saharan African Biorepository to Support HIV/AIDS Research

By Kristin Hubing

W en the National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced in July 2013 that Stellenbosch University had been selected as the site for its first AIDS Malignancy Consortium sub-Saharan Africa biorepository, it represented the culmination of a longstanding relationship between the South African university and the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS).Since 2011, Stellenbosch University has contributed biological specimens from more than 300 South African patients with Kaposi’s sarcoma, an AIDS-related malignancy, to NCI’s East Coast AIDS and Cancer Specimen Resource (EC ACSR) housed at SMHS. The resource, invaluable to researchers, is part of the National ACSR, which exists to collect, preserve, and disperse biological specimens from patients with HIV-associated malignancies.

Sylvia Silver, D.A., professor of pathology and medicine at SMHS, director and principal investigator for the EC ACSR, will work closely with her South African counterparts to provide quality management expertise and advice on best practices as Stellenbosch University prepares to launch the sub-Saharan African biorepository in early 2014.

“This fits in with Stellenbosch University really becoming a center for biobanking,” says Silver, who notes that Stellenbosch is also the recipient of a grant from the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Initiative, which aims to facilitate a contemporary research approach to the study of genomics and environmental determinants of common diseases in Africa.

“This is an opportunity to facilitate high-quality research and to encourage researchers to become part of an extensive network that will enable collaborative research in this field.”

—Johann Schneider, M.D., head of the division of anatomical pathology, Stellenbosch University

Johann Schneider, M.D., head of the division of anatomical pathology at Stellenbosch, will serve as the principal investigator for the sub-Saharan biorepository. “Though this will be a Stellenbosch University-based facility, we see it as an important asset for the country as a whole and for sub-Saharan Africa at large,” he says. “This is an opportunity to facilitate high-quality research and to encourage researchers to become part of an extensive network that will enable collaborative research in this field,” which he notes has been hindered thus far by difficulties with logistics and transportation in African countries with limited infrastructure.

“Another challenge with biorepositories in this part of the world is that people are not familiar with the concept,” says Schneider, who is pleased with the discussions that the award has stimulated amongst high-level South African government officials. “There are ethical and legislative issues that need to be overcome — data transport agreements, import/export permits — but if we can achieve a successful outcome it will level the ground for future negotiations at the national level,” he says.

According to Silver, the long-term goal is for the sub-Saharan biorepository to become a stand-alone regional biorepository of the ACSR that would make specimens available to international researchers who work in HIV malignancies. “It’s been proven that public health research done in-country has a larger impact on getting public health initiatives in place than research that is done out of country,” notes Silver. “Not to mention that there is an amazing resource of scientists in Africa whose capacities need to be enriched.”


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