Many people are turning to the African Institute of Biomedical Sciences and Technology (AiBST) DNA Testing Centre, for forensic and medical findings, Harare News has learnt.
A leading clinical pharmacologist, President and Chief Scientist at AiBST DNA Testing Centre Professor Collen Masimirembwa, said figures recorded at the centre confirm that more and more residents of Harare, and further afield, are consulting the institute.
“On average we are receiving 15–20 cases requiring confirmation tests, while other requests have been for training, research and forensic tests,” revealed Professor Masimirembwa.
Professor Masimirembwa disclosed that the most sought after services are paternity and maternity tests, for both personal reasons and for legal settlements. There are also requests for disaster victim identification tests for victims of accidents and missing relatives, as well as tests to convict or exonerate suspects of criminal acts, like rape, murder and robbery. Siblings and kinships tests and family tree construction are also requested as well a variety of medical genetic tests.
The AiBST DNA testing laboratory centre helped to identify more than 20 victims of the Chisumbanje inferno who were burnt beyond recognition after a truck they were travelling in collided head-on with a Green Fuel tanker carrying ethanol.
The centre, which is based at Harare’s Wilkins Hospital, was established in 2007. It has been working in partnership with the City of Harare (CoH) Health Services Department in testing new medicines entering its health centres and determining whether or not they will have unwanted side effects for patients. “The aim of personalized medicine or individual treatment is to match the right drug to the right patient and in some cases even design the appropriate treatment for a patient according to their genotypes,” said Prof Masimirembwa.
Prof Masimirembwa said there can be further complications in the treatment of HIV/AIDS-TB co-infections which are estimated at over 60% in HIV/AIDS patients taking the combination of Isoniazid and Stavudine, an ARV which also causes severe peripheral neuropathy. The major reason for differences in drug response is inherited variations in gene structures which affect the body’s response to medication. This variation in response to medication has given rise to a specialized field further defined as pharmacogenetics or pharmacogenomics which is the influence of genetic variability to drugs.
This is one of the core reasons why the African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology was established.
Genomic medicine is therefore driving the current shift in clinical practice from that of one diagnosis and one treatment to fit all, to a pattern of individual treatment known as personalized treatment. Pharmacogenomics currently holds the promise that drugs might one day be tailor made for individuals and adapted to each person’s own genetic makeup.
AiBST is the first and currently the only DNA testing centre in Zimbabwe. Over the years Zimbabweans had to send samples out of the country to countries such as South Africa for DNA testing.
“The availability of local capacity in DNA technology implies a reduction of sending samples outside for testing. It means all along we have been consciously or unconsciously helping other countries create employment, grow their economies and earn foreign receipts,” said Dr Prosper Chonzi, Director of CoH Health Services Department.