Prof Francois van der Westhuizen of the Mitochondria Research Laboratory in the NWU’s Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences will be the primary investigator on the South African side.
NWU hosts biochemists for international conference
The NWU’s biochemists are not only involved in establishing the International Centre for Genomic Research for Neuromuscular Diseases, they also hosted the 26th biennial conference of the South African Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SASBMB).
This was in conjunction with the Federation of African Societies of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (FASBMB) and took place from 8 to 11 July on the campus in Potchefstroom.
Topics discussed during the event included infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, inflammation and immunity, cell biology and drug discovery and medicinal plants.
The NWU will play a prominent role in establishing a new International Centre for Genomic Research in Neuromuscular Diseases, and also in South Africa’s participation in this virtual centre.
The centre will bring scientists, academics and clinicians from six nations and four continents together in the fight against neuromuscular diseases.
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Neuromuscular diseases include many different conditions that impair the functioning of muscles in the human body.
Some of the more prominent diseases in this group are muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and motor neuron disease. These have been widely publicised in recent years, with high-profile sufferers such as rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking publicly sharing their journeys with their conditions.
Lack of funding equals less research
Even with these famous personalities bringing neuromuscular diseases to the forefront, not enough research has been done to address the challenges that this group of rare and mostly debilitating diseases pose to sufferers and the medical profession.
In developing countries this is mainly due to a lack of funding as most research and health funding goes towards more prominent diseases such as HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Prof Francois van der Westhuizen of the Mitochondria Research Laboratory in the NWU’s Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences says a large international grant from the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council (UK-MRC) will make the virtual centre a reality over the next five years. It will enable ambitious plans for clinical training and population-specific genetic research on four continents. This is where the NWU comes in, according to Francois.
Francois, a researcher on mitochondrial disease, will be the primary investigator on the South African side.Scientists and clinicians at four local universities, namely the NWU, University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of Pretoria (UP) and Stellenbosch University (SU), will work together in establishing the South African arm of this centre.
Sharing knowledge will have an impact
“The plan is to assemble and study approximately 10 000 patients from the six countries involved over the next five years. Our goal is to obtain and share valuable clinical and genetic data that can be used in identifying and testing novel therapies.”
He says large multi-disciplinary collaborations where knowledge and expertise are shared are hugely important to achieve outcomes that will not only have greater scientific impact, but will also benefit society. “It will help us to examine new avenues for properly diagnosing and dealing with these diseases and aid in developing new medicines to fight them,” he concludes.
(Read the full article here.)
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