Accelerating the impact of genomic research in low-and-middle-income countries

Published: 15 December 2021

Genomic research is revolutionising approaches to investigate complex One Health systems.

Genomic research has revolutionised approaches to investigate complex One Health (OH) systems, in particular zoonotic diseases that spread between animals and people. However, despite the significant burden of these diseases in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), genomics research is predominantly undertaken in high-income countries. This is largely due to factors including poor infrastructure, lack of trained genomics-proficient scientists and socio-economic challenges in LMICs.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow have worked with public health and veterinary institutions in Tanzania, Kenya and the Philippines to narrow the gap in genomics expertise and research activity in LMICs by communicating the benefits of, and developing the capacity for, One Health genomics research and its use in practice and policy.

Training to strengthen capacity

Kirstyn Brunker holding the final sequencing library prepared by participants during the One Health rapid genome sequencing workshop at the University of Nairobi Institute of Tropical & Infectious Diseases, Kenya.

Funding from the Scottish Funding Council via the Global Challenges Research Fund allowed the research team led by Dr Kirstyn Brunker from the University’s School of Biodiversity, One Health and Veterinary Medicine, to deliver intensive training workshops in advanced genomic technologies for key “influencers” within public and veterinary health sectors.

Training focused on MinION technology, a portable real-time sequencing platform with minimal capital cost that can be easily installed in LMIC settings. The MinION sequencing platform developed by Oxford Nanopore allows teams to complete genome sequencing in the field, putting a powerful tool to combat infectious disease in the hands of public health teams around the world.

Each workshop provided practical laboratory sessions for sample-to-sequence preparation, sequencing, and basic analysis. For most of the participants, it was the first experience of next generation sequencing, which addressed a critical knowledge gap limiting genomics research in LMICS.

Fast and reliable sequencing is highly beneficial, particularly for outbreaks of diseases such as rabies, where identifying the likely incursion can help achieve quick containment.

Providing equipment

The funding also provided the equipment to implement sequencing as an in-country resource for infectious disease surveillance. MinION starter packs consisting of a sequencing machine and reagents were awarded to workshop participants who submitted a 3-month research project proposal. Most of these were collaborative proposals resulting from networking opportunities at the training workshops and cover One-Health pathogen problems, including a recent Rift Valley fever outbreak.

The project has led to whole genome sequences of rabies virus generated for the first time in Kenya. These sequences will be published in an open-source journal, co-authored by collaborators in the UK, Kenya and Tanzania.

Through provision of the necessary equipment and training, teams are now able to analyse samples locally rather than shipping them to the UK, which has previously been necessary.

Genomic surveillance of rabies

Genomic surveillance for rabies

First published: 15 December 2021