Picture: Supplied Seun Adebiyi founder of the Nigerian Bone Marrow Registry joins guests on a tour of CPGR’s Cape Town lab.

The Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research (CPGR) announced that it has entered into a partnership with The Sunflower Fund (TSF) to make best-in-class stem-cell typing solutions available on the African continent. In addition to providing high-resolution HLA typing, the partnership will create a data repository that integrates and makes available data generated through next-generation sequencing as well as complementary donor information.

For patients with debilitating blood disorders, such as Leukemia or sickle cell disease, stem cell transplants are often the only realistic chance for a cure. The tissue selection relies on the careful matching of a donor’s immunological profile with that of a patient’s to increase transplant success and avoidance of unwanted side effects.

Using state-of-the-art molecular techniques, this process can today be guided in a precise manner, akin to using high-resolution photography in search of a person’s biological twin. While success rates are in the upper quartiles in the developed world, they remain dire in Africa for at least two reasons: stem cell typing isn’t routinely done at high resolution and the number of donors registered on existing registries is low.

The Sunflower Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating awareness, educating the public and recruiting blood stem cell donors in South Africa. The group also raises funds to cover the tissue-typing test costs involved in the recruitment of donors.

CPGR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing state-of-the-art 'omics' services to South Africa's life sciences and biotech communities, originating from an initiative by the South Africa Department of Science and Technology (DST). The organization has created a cutting-edge Genomics platform, including Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies, and has opted to make high-resolution typing solutions available for donor typing in Africa. To date, it has implemented a high-resolution (6-loci) and highest-resolution (11-loci) application in its partnership with The Sunflower Fund.

“Based on our experience in running a diversity of NGS applications, we were in a good position for expanding our offering to include high-resolution HLA typing”, said Dr Lindsay Petersen, Genomics Manager. “Through our partnership with Lancet Laboratories, we are able to make this high-end solution available immediately across South Africa and in 15 African countries”, added Dr Petersen.

‘Research shows that the genetic ‘distances’ between African populations are greater than those observed between European populations,’ says Alana James, CEO of The Sunflower Fund. ‘This genetic diversity poses practical challenges to find HLA-matched unrelated donors, a challenge that is very relevant in the context of South Africa’s rainbow nation’, James continued. “Our partnership with CPGR enables us to test at higher resolution molecular (DNA) level testing which is in line with international best practice thereby reducing cost and time implications in the search for a match for a patient,” she added

‘The partnership with TSF allows us to transform our technical capabilities into a social-impact delivering value proposition. Through our interaction with The Sunflower Fund and the World Marrow Donor Association we realised the disparity between international best practice and the technologies used in Africa currently ’, said Dr Reinhard Hiller, CPGR’s Managing Director. ‘Through the aggregation of information-rich sequencing data, we will unravel subtle genetic differences that were previously uncharacterized in particular in individuals with African and mixed ancestral heritage. This will facilitate the development of innovative solutions to further improve the quality of tissue typing and donor/recipient matching.’