Genomics Research in Africa – Improving Health by applying cloud computing

I talked about the need for more market research needed. Lets get more serious. How about more genomics research? Sounds too cutting edge? No. Its become more and more feasible to do, cheaper and more distributed. The intersection of bioinformatics, genomics sequencing with cloud computation may unleash huge innovations globally – to sequence genes faster allowing prediction, diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of many conditions. Check out this TED talk from Richard Resnick for a background in this field.

Don’t believe the internet doesn’t apply here at all – check out 23 and me a consumer facing web service for $99 – allows a complete run down of health risk factors in one’s health based on genetics. Imagine getting this down to say $10 in Africa one day…

In Africa, we simply don’t have enough genetic research that allows us to study and understand the effects of non-communicable diseases on African population that are growing by 15% from 2010-2020. Recently, Julie Makani, a researcher from Tanzania, won a grant to conduct sickle cell research part of which involves applying genetics. And in a conversation I had with her on a trip back to Tanzania she pointed me some material that I have been working to understand and how as a web/mobile/software techie with a growing interest in applying these to the healthcare sectors. I urge more African techies to turn to this area. I had previously wrote about innovation funding landscape in Africa – this is one area that many foundations and impact investors are applying themselves – hence there is potentially lots of funding available in this sector, given the obvious huge impact to Africa health long-term. I also mentioned on my last post, the importance of liberating data. Here is a prime example, such data could be locked up in health research institutions in Africa unless liberated on a cloud infrastructure with the right privacy and legal controls in place. Amazon, a leader in cloud computing already has a 200GB genome data set for researchers to work with the public. Of course having an Africa specific dataset helps the continent a lot. Even bigger? Allowing people to collaborate on this across the continent. Could Africa leapfrog the rest of the world and get this done first using modern cloud infrastructure? Only 1% of internet bandwidth is Kenya is being utilized right now and more and more data centers are popping up – there’s plenty of room for this sort of stuff.

Entrepreneurship is about solving unique problems and often applying cross discipline skills – Techies need to hang out with medical and biomedical folks more often to come up with opportunities. It’s harder to build a healthcare venture for sure – but hey, who knows , maybe one day someone might built the Genentech of Africa?

For more information check out this whitpaper published early this year by the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Initiative to the Wellcome Trust and the National Institutes of Health. h3africa_whitepaper.