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African ‘omics’ gets boost from Sweden-South Africa tech deal

Technology’s first use on African soil set to strengthen research on the continent

A deal between a Swedish molecular research technology firm and a South African life science platform could see cutting-edge ‘omics’ science boosted in Africa.

On 29 March, Uppsala-based company Olink announced that its targeted protein biomarker discovery technologies would be used for the first time in Africa at D-Cyphr, a proteomics and metabolomics research facility in Cape Town.

Its introduction “will dramatically improve the quality and throughput of advanced proteomics research in South Africa”, said Tim Newman, programme manager for the Distributed Platform in Omics (Diplomics) initiative—a South African research infrastructure to strengthen omics capacity in the country.

Diplomics is funded by the country’s Department of Science and Innovation, and funded the placement of the equipment and training required to operate the Olink technology. 

A handful of African studies have already used the Olink technology, but had to ship their samples overseas to Uppsala or Boston in the United States to carry out analyses.

Now, it will be possible to do the same research on the African continent. Having the technology accessible in South Africa will give researchers cheaper access as well as help them avoid costly and difficult-to-obtain sample export permits, says Liam Bell, lead facilitator at Diplomics.

Large-scale proteomic analysis of samples held in African biobanks could provide valuable health insights, proponents say. While the facility is based in South Africa, it is “capable and willing” to process samples from anywhere, says Bell.

Covid-19 and tuberculosis projects will be among the first to use the technology. 

“The ability to quantify large panels of secreted and cell surface antigens in clinical samples from tuberculosis patients using high-throughput, multiplexed Olink assays will enable new insights into immunopathogenesis in this important infectious disease,” Jonathan Blackburn, deputy director of the University of Cape Town’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, said in a statement.

Olink chief executive Jon Heimer said the company was “immensely proud” to contribute to research in South Africa. “We know that our technology will further stimulate the development of groundbreaking science, enhancing the wellbeing of people around the world,” he added.

See the original article here.

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