The research will aim to improve health and economic development in Sub-saharan Africa
through innovative biotechnology.

Innovative tools for genome regulation

Innovative tools for genome regulation. In simple terms, genome regulation involves the maintenance and copying of cellular DNA, as well as the production, maintenance and control of RNAs and proteins. Most diseases – be they neurodegenerative, metabolic or cancerous – can be linked to the failure of genomic processes. The wrong RNA may be produced, giving rise to the wrong protein. Alternatively, the wrong amounts of the ‘right’ protein may be the problem. In eukaryotic organisms, such as humans, more than 98 % of the RNA in the cell is alternatively spliced, meaning many different types of RNAs are produced from a precursor RNA. As a result, mis-splicing
(‘wrong splicing’) is implicated in many illnesses such as Alzheimer’s diseases, cancers and metabolic diseases. Since most genes are alternatively spliced, The Biotech Institute will focus on modulating alternative splicing as a general way to solve different diseases. Our search  or splicing therapeutics will focus on tau exon 10 implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the Receptor for Advanced Glycation End-products (RAGE) pre-mRNA implicated in several metabolic disorders. To modulate alternative splicing, we will focus on various approaches that include G-quadruplexes, antisense oligonucleotides and the revolutionary CRISPR/Cas gene and RNA editing technology.

Understanding and countering anti-microbial drug resistance (AMR).

Many infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria are caused by everchanging microbes that often acquire resistance to the drugs used to eradicate them.AMR is of global concern, particularly in low-income Sub-saharan Africa due to poor health and diagnostic facilities. The Biotech Institute will use next generation sequencing (NGS) and computational genomics to understand the geographic spread and local molecular evolution of drug resistance. Particular focus will be placed on understanding and preventing maternal and neonatal sepsis. Sepsis is caused by an improper host response to pathogenic infection, leading to septic shock, multiple organ failure and death if not quickly treated. It is a major cause of maternal mortality, death in neonates and children under five years old. However, AMR is a major factor promoting treatment failure, rapid evolution to sepsis and septic shock. The world health organization (WHO) establishes sepsis eradication as one major way to achieve the
sustainable development goals (SDGs) 3.1 to 3.3.

Demytifying traditional african medicines

Africa has a long, rich, unwritten history on the successful use of traditional medicines or herbs to cure various illnesses. There are also various untested myths about the potential of selected plants. At the same time, there are several cases of international companies exporting long-known local therapeutic knowledge and practices to developed countries and transforming it into patented drugs, which rack in billions of Euros for those companies, with no benefit

Accelerating food security through molecular biotechnology

Sub-saharan Africa faces drastic food security challenges. The problem is not only the requirement to produce adequate amounts of food, but also the need to produce sufficiently different types of food to achieve proper nutritional balance. Additionally, food production by ‘classical’ means such as the use of chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides and herbicides poses great environmental damage, especially considering, for instance, that only a small proportion of chemical fertilizers are actually absorbed by plants. Our task at The Biotech Institute is to accelerate the attainment of food security through sustainable agriculture. The focus will be placed on the discovery, validation, development and application of bio-fertilizers. In the same vein, the possibility to develop and employ nano-fertilizers will be assessed. In intersection with our genomic tools development program described above, we will explore the usage of CRISPR/Cas genomic tools in the molecular breeding of plants and animals.