In an interview with Clinical Laboratory International, our Chief Operating Officer, Delali Attiogbe Attipoe discusses the company’s ongoing plans to address underrepresentation in molecular research. In its first half, the interview focuses on major issues in relation to precision medicine and its importance.
Delali cites examples of revolutionary discoveries that were made possible by the application of meticulous research and clinical trials.
“There are so many examples of conditions that have benefitted from a precision medicine approach. A universal example that stands out for me is blood transfusions and bone marrow treatments, with blood types and bone marrow being characterized and matched to the right patient to ensure safety and efficacy. An early, and well-known ‘genetic data-driven’ example is breast cancer treatment with trastuzumab (Herceptin), where a molecular diagnostic test that assesses HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) status offers a reliable predictor of treatment success.”
Following that, Delali touches on the valuable insights derived from the ongoing pandemic applicable to biobanking and its relevance in the development of precision medicine.
“One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is that to be truly beneficial and impactful, genomic research needs to be done at scale, and address the needs of the global population. Biobanks typically hold information from a relatively restricted population with, for example, fewer than 3% of the genomes analysed to date coming from Africans, who offer the largest genetic diversity. This needs to change. We must represent the wider population to really see the effects of precision medicine across the world, and we believe biobanks are key to supporting this goal.”
Next, came the question on Biobank challenges and limitations. Delali briefly mentions the major elements needed to be tackled:
“The samples typically collected by most biobanks do not come from a diverse range of populations, which limits the body of data they can offer. Presently, most genomic data used for research and development are from Europe, United Kingdom and North America, with African genomic data accounting for only a tiny fraction. As a result, information that could prove beneficial to the improvement of healthcare for all populations across the world may be missed.
Socio-cultural factors as well as lack of awareness are limitations in Africa. Africa contains more genetic diversity than any other continent because it is widely seen as ‘the cradle of humankind’. The diversity in African DNA can provide insights into human evolution as well as common diseases. By gathering insights from the African genome, we could power medical breakthroughs and drug discoveries that will advance healthcare globally. By better understanding the genetic drivers of disease, we can ensure that African people and the global community benefit from cutting-edge medical innovation developed from the insights we have generated.”
In her final words, Delali reiterates the aim of 54gene regarding precision medicine and our vision for its future.
“We are tackling the disparity in precision medicine by building one of the world’s richest data sets from the most genetically diverse populations. We are applying deep analytics to derive key insights from this unique data set. Our mission is to deliver on the promise of precision medicine for Africans – and the global population – by bridging the disparity gap in genomics data and our goal is to be part of the reason that new drugs are discovered.
We are re-imagining a world where precision medicine is equalized, and everyone can live healthier and longer.”
To read the full interview, click here