New program aims to build genetics research capacity in Africa

Kristi Post, GINGER program manager (center), with Zukiswa Zingela of Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, South Africa, and Dickens Akena of Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda/Photo: Rocky Stroud II

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A new collaboration between researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and six African universities and institutes aims to boost genetics research capacity in Africa, and ultimately to help close gaps in knowledge about mental health in a population historically excluded from genetics research.

The GINGER (Global Initiative for Neuropsychiatric Genetics Education in Research) program has recruited 17 young African scientists who, over the course of two years starting this July, will attend workshops in Boston and London on topics including epidemiology, bioinformatics, genetics, and grant writing. In between, they will return to their home universities, where they’ll receive virtual mentoring and onsite research skills training. The trainees will ultimately become trainers themselves, and share what they’ve learned with their colleagues.

On Feb. 3, 2017, GINGER hosted a “Curriculum Jamboree,” sponsored by the Harvard Chan School and the Stanley Center. Thirty researchers from the U.S.—representing the School, the Stanley Center and the Broad Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Boston University—together with collaborators from partner institutions in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, and the United Kingdom attended the event. Over the course of a day spent brainstorming ideas and debating curriculum design, they emerged with a plan for the program’s course offerings.

“Great science and great discoveries come from people who work together,” Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams said in her opening remarks. Steve Hyman, director of the Stanley Center, echoed that message.