Neuropsychiatric genetics in Africa: Building the research and the researchers together
Lori B. Chibnik1,2, Dickens Akena3, Lukoye Atwoli4, Symon M. Kariuki5,6, Charles R.J.C Newton5,6, Kristianna Post1,2, Dan J. Stein7, Anne Stevenson1,2, Rocky E. Stroud1,2, Solomon Teferra8, Zukiswa Zingela9, Bizu Gelaye1,2, Karestan C. Koenen1,2
1Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, USA
2Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, USA
3Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
4 Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya
5KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kilifi, Kenya
6University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
7University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
8Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
9Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha, South Africa
Both global mental health and neuropsychiatric genetics have made enormous strides in the past decade. However, these two fields have grown on parallel tracks, with little to no interaction. While recent advances in psychiatric genetics have identified over 100 genetic loci associated with schizophrenia that are now being used to inform translational research, large-scale genetic studies have primarily used only genomes with European ancestry. If this pattern continues, advances in genetics will be limited with the ensuing risk that therapeutic innovations leave out large segments of the global population. Researchers have launched a new initiative with the objective of improving the existing science and addressing issues of equity by growing research capacity through mentoring and training young scientists. This new program, the Neuropsychiatric Genetics of African Populations, includes a study on psychosis (NeuroGAP-Psychosis) which began collection in 2018 and aims to collect DNA and phenotypic data from more than 17,000 cases (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) and 17,000 controls from four countries in Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda, combined with a capacity building program, the Global Initiative for Neuropsychiatric Education in Research (GINGER).
Through a two-year Fellowship program GINGER combines in-person research workshops, virtual classroom activities and a series of courses run in collaboration with partner institutions in Africa. By combining research with training and mentoring we hope to ensure that the next generation is adequately prepared to take an active role in NeuroGAP-Psychosis, carry the research forward and be future leaders in the field of global neuropsychiatric genetics.