a high-tech laboratory for researchers in Africa

A new laboratory in Nigeria enables the rapid diagnosis of diseases such as monkeypox. The lab can be used to create test kits by scientists across Africa.

Nigeria’s Oligo synthesizer lab, the first in West Africa, could be a game-changer in the fight against emerging and re-emerging diseases in the region if harnessed to its full potential, say scientists at the lab.

The Oligo synthesizer is used by scientists to design and develop primers, which are shorter versions of genes and can be used to test for disease within 24 hours.

Experts believe that the Oligo synthesizer which is available at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) in Lagos could boost West Africa’s ability to diagnose diseases such as monkeypox.

“Unlike the days when we were at the mercy of Western countries for access to advanced technologies and laboratories, Nigeria can now diagnose all mysterious diseases locally and in a timely manner,” says NIMR researcher James Ayorinde.

He adds that there are labs in West Africa that can quickly identify the genetic makeup of pathogenic organisms, but none have an Oligo synthesizer that can be used to make test kits. The machine in Nigeria is already having an impact and saving lives, he says.

“A few weeks ago, we were able to save the life of a child who underwent a bone marrow transplant outside the country. The child fell ill when he returned to Nigeria,” James Ayorinde told SciDev.Net.

“His doctor abroad wanted to know what virus was affecting the child. In less than 24 hours, we were able to respond to him, which enabled the doctor to make an informed decision to save his life,” describes the researcher.

“If we were to send his sample overseas, which takes two to three weeks before we can get the result, the boy would not have survived. This is just one of the revolutionary effects of the machine”, analyzes James Ayorinde.

Bamidele Abiodun Iwalokun, head of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Division at NIMR, says that using the Oligo synthesizer to diagnose diseases costs less than 5,000 naira (about US$12).

James Ayorinde claims that Nigeria’s Oligo synthesizer was launched in 2021 but began full operation in May 2022. He also states that the MTN Foundation has spent around 100 million naira (about $233,000) to help set up this laboratory.

“In a short time, we were able to carry out many experiments,” James Ayorinde told SciDev.Net. “My colleagues are currently working on human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing for bone marrow transplantation and breast cancer sequencing. »

HLA typing is a type of genetic test done to look at factors that impact the body’s immune system that fights disease.

James Ayorinde points out that as the NIMR collaborates with medical institutions in Africa, the laboratory is available for use by African scientists to help control disease.

Manason Rubainu, director of Peak Medical Laboratories Limitedbased in Nigeria, and member of the West African Postgraduate College of Medical Laboratory Sciencerecommends that the NIMR ensure that scientists in the region are aware of the laboratory and foster greater collaboration for its maximum utilization.

As for Chinonso Egemba, executive director of the Nigeria-based 100K Club and global health advocate, he says the lab is welcome, but more work is needed to ensure lab diagnosis is available in rural areas.

This is approved by James Ayorinde who admits that the acquisition of this machine is only the beginning. “We have to keep investing, getting more accessories, to improve the quality of what we do. There is a need for expansion,” he says.

The original version of this article was produced by the English language edition of SciDev.Net for Sub-Saharan Africa.

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