Baylor College of Medicine News

Baylor international HIV/AIDS program to study genetic differences of disease in sub-Saharan African children

Grant from the National Institute of Health will help examine genetic factors that effect tuberculosis and HIV.

A $3 million, three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health will enable researchers from the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative at Texas Children’s Hospital to study the genetic factors that affect the progression of tuberculosis and HIV in one of the largest populations infected with the diseases yet to be studied– children in sub-Saharan Africa.

The grant will establish The Collaborative African Genomics Network (CAfGEN) and include collaborators from two BIPAI sites - the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Centre of Excellence and the Baylor-Uganda Children’s Clinical Center of Excellence, along with Makerere University in Uganda, the University of Botswana, and Baylor College of Medicine.

CAfGEN is a project of the NIH and Wellcome Trust supported-Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3 Africa) Initiative.

“Advanced genetic and genomic technologies have the promise to transform our understanding and approach to health and human diseases,” said Dr. Graeme Mardon, professor of molecular and human genetics and pathology & immunology at Baylor and principal investigator of the Baylor portion of the grant. 

The team will use state-of-the-art genomic technologies to study a rare group of HIV-infected children who can control the infection for years without needing anti-retroviral therapy to prevent AIDS. They will also be following a group of HIV positive children infected with tuberculosis to identify new genes associated with disease progression.

Their ultimate goal is to offer improved diagnostics and new therapeutic avenues in tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

“Most of the previous genetic studies in HIV were undertaken in non-African, adult populations,” said Dr. Gabriel Anabwani, executive director of the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Center of Excellence and the lead principal investigator of the grant. “There is a great need to study the genetic factors of progression in children; their disease differs considerably from their adult counterparts and they potentially have more to gain from therapeutic advances.”

The clinical centers will provide expertise for patient recruitment while the universities will provide local molecular genetic resources. Baylor, home to one of the top-rated genetics programs in the United States, will bring to the partnership access to genomics expertise and resources that will ultimately be transitioned to African researchers and institutions through an extensive training program designed to develop highly-knowledgeable geneticists in African nations.

Other principal investigators include Drs. Oathokwa Nkomazana and Sununguko Mpoloka from the University of Botswana; Dr. Moses Joloba from Makerere University; and Dr. Adeodata Kekitiinwa from the Baylor-Uganda Children’s Clinical Center of Excellence. Other key Baylor investigators include Dr. Neil Hanchard, assistant professor of molecular and human genetics, and Dr. Chester Brown, associate professor of molecular and human genetics and of pediatrics.

The grant will also help establish core genomics facilities in Botswana and Uganda, with trainees from those institutions having the chance to work in several highly-regarded core laboratories at BCM including the Human Genome Sequencing Center, the Laboratory for Translational Genomics in the Children’s Nutrition Research Center, and the Center for Statistical Genetics.

“The excitement of this grant is not only the potential for improved care in childhood HIV, but the improvements in knowledge and infrastructure that will serve the people of Africa for many years to come,” said Kekitiinwa.