The African gene pool is so diverse that researchers are now using this unique genetic material in the effort to find a cure for HIV/Aids. The Times reports that South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is creating stem cells by collecting skin samples the size of a freckle from anonymous African donors, using a method as painless as donating blood. The skin cells are then reprogrammed using a cocktail of genes to create the stem cells.
These cells carry the exact genetics of the person they were taken from, and can be split to provide an infinite source of cells.
The researchers say they have already made important breakthroughs, to be revealed soon.
At the CSIR, researchers coax stem cells into white blood cells that are infected with HIV and are tested to investigate the donor’s susceptibility to infection.
"The most powerful reason for doing this in Africa is that our population holds the entire genetic diversity of the world. This means that understanding the disease and finding treatments in our population would be applicable to the rest of the world," said Dr Janine Scholefield of the CSIR’s gene expression and biophysics group.
Testing on stem cells allows for more successful trials because it enables researchers to develop better drugs earlier in the drug screening "work flow".
"This means that when we get to the end point of clinical trials, the drugs have a better chance of working. These cells are made from the people we’re going to hopefully treat, so it’s taking personalised medicine to the next level," said Scholefield.
[link url="http://www.timeslive.co.za/thetimes/2015/01/08/africa-is-hiv-gene-genie"]Full report in The Times[/link]