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Building the capacity of African researchers in next-generation sequencing

Updated: 1 day ago

Guest authors: Emmanuel Dabo (1), Marie Danielle Bogui (1), Kanny Diallo (2)

(1) African Science Communication Agency (ASCA)

(2) Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d’Ivoire (CSRS)

 

In this blog, we would like to highlight a collaborative project involving one of our member organisations, the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques (CSRS), based in Côte d’Ivoire. CSRS is a multidisciplinary research centre, and the meningitis research group led by Dr. Kanny Diallo is part of the Environment, Human and Animal Health research theme (ESAH). Their work focuses on studying the diversity of the pathogens involved in meningitis to develop better diagnostic and surveillance strategies for low- and middle-income countries.

 

This blog is about a capacity-building activity in metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS) for young African scientists in order to make them able to simultaneously screen for multiple pathogens known to cause meningitis (bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites) and identify new agents not yet discovered.



From 29 April to 6 May 2024, the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques in Côte d’Ivoire hosted a training course in metagenomic next-generation sequencing. Around ten researchers from Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea and Mali took part. They represented the CSRS, the Institut Pasteur de Côte d'Ivoire (IPCI), the Institut National de Santé Publique (INSP) in Guinea and the Centre pour le Développement des Vaccins (CDV) in Mali. For one week, these researchers were trained in metagenomic sequencing and bioinformatics analysis.

 

Sequencing is a process used to decode the genetic information contained in DNA. There are several sequencing techniques. One of the most recent is metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS). In an article published in 2023 in the journal Frontiers in microbiology, Dr. Kanny Diallo, associate researcher at the CSRS, states that mNGS “enables an in-depth study of the genomes of microbial communities. mNGS opens up a vast field of possibilities and applications for diagnosing diseases. This is achieved through a number of features, including next-generation sequencing, which involves the massive, parallel sequencing of millions of DNA fragments, providing vast quantities of data.”

 

Despite the benefits that mNGS offers to public health, access to it remains limited in middle- and low-income countries. In many respects, capacity building is needed. At the CSRS, the “Real Etiology of Meningitis in West Africa” project is funded as part of the Metagenomic Grand Challenges Initiative, a partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Bio Hub and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The aim of the project is to apply an unbiased metagenomic approach to simultaneously screen for multiple pathogens known to cause meningitis (bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites) and identify new agents not yet discovered. The training on metagenomic next-generation sequencing is part of the “Real Etiology of Meningitis in West Africa” project.

 

We are hopeful that with the results from this project we will be able to demonstrate the benefit of applying mNGS to improve meningitis diagnosis and surveillance and support future vaccine development in a sustainable way in low- and middle-income countries. We also plead for continuous support for such capacity-building efforts that will allow us to grow the network of African Laboratories equipped for mNGS. All of this is crucial to the ultimate goal of defeating meningitis by 2030.

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