Ugandans decode kidney disease gene in Africans

A laboratory technician conducts tests in Wandegeya, Kampala, in October 2017. Researchers at Makerere University and Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) have said they discovered two gene variants that increase the risk of developing kidney disease among Africans. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The researchers have called for  the inclusion of Africans in genomic studies for better medical care. 

Researchers at Makerere University and Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) have said they discovered two gene variants that increase the risk of developing kidney disease among Africans. 

The researchers said their findings will be important in preventing the disease by testing and advising those with these unique genes on lifestyle changes to minimise the risk of developing the disease. 

In the analysis by seven scientists led by Christopher Kintu, a bioinformatics scientist, the researchers analysed data of 80,027 participants from three global population-based cohorts.

They said they discovered gene variants in the SLC22A2 and GATM, respectively, which are unique to Africans. 

“SLC22A2 is a protein-coding gene which is responsible for detoxification and drug metabolism in the kidney. GATM gene codes for an enzyme that is involved in metabolism in the kidney [for regulation of blood pressure],” Mr Kintu said while presenting the findings to other scientists in Kampala on Monday last week.

“We can use people’s genetic materials to predict disease before it even occurs. To do this, we have to get a polygenic risk score, and we measure the average risk for an individual, and advise them on how to reduce their risk of developing the disease by either telling them to avoid alcohol or do more physical exercise,” he added. 

The prevalence of chronic kidney disease in Uganda is estimated at around 6.8 percent. Ugandans travel to foreign countries for costly kidney transplants due to the lack of facilities in the country. 

Associate Prof Segun Fatumo, an expert in Genetic Epidemiology and Bioinformatics at the UVRI, who was part of the research, said there is need to include Africans in genomic studies for better medical care. 

“Currently, genomic studies primarily include individuals with European ancestry. This means genetic risk scores in predicting risk to disease, while applicable to the European population, is not accurate or reliable to those of African ancestry,” he said in a statement yesterday. 

“It is crucial that we address this lack of diversity in genomic data. More genomic research is required to produce genetic risk scores that are relevant and representative of the genetic diversity in African populations due to age, lifestyle, environment, and other genetic factors,” he added.

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