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Johannesburg, South Africa

Site Institution: University of Witwatersand
U.S. Institution: Stanford University
Research Areas: Genomics, Bioinformatics, Life Expectancy, Child and Adolescent Health, HIV/AIDS

Site Description:
The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) is one of Africa’s leading universities, situated in Johannesburg, the economic center of South Africa. In 2019, Wits had 40,000 students, 36% of them postgraduate students, and over 4000 academic staff (faculty). The University has 36 schools in five facilities, and several research institutes and groups. As a research-intensive institution, there are over 60 research institutes and groups with formal recognition by the University. In 2019, 457 researchers were rated by the National Research Foundation (NRF), 29 of whom were A-rated, and the NRF had awarded 30 South African Research Chair Initiatives to Wits. Wits authors contributed to over 3500 papers in accredited academic journals and refereed conference proceedings in 2019.

The relevant academic units involved in the GHES program are listed below, but strong collaborations with other units, such as the Schools of Public Health; Electrical & Information Engineering; and Computer Science & Applied Mathematics, do exist.

Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB)
The SBIMB is a leader in genomics and bioinformatics research in Africa. The SBIMB has a strong projects office that supports researchers and students. Current projects include:
  • African Population Genetics projects as part of the H3A Genome Analysis Working Group
  • The AWI-Gen Phase II Project: An NIH-funded Collaborative Center as part of the H3A Consortium. This includes a microbiome project.
  • The Wits node of the Pan-African Bioinformatics Network for H3Africa
  • Cancer Genomics Research Group investigating cancers in African populations.
  • Several pharmacogenomics projects, including one supported by GSK investigating variation in the ADME genes in African populations.
The MRC/Wits Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU), based in Soweto addresses the national priorities of increasing life expectancy, decreasing maternal and child mortality and strengthening health system effectiveness. The DPHRU research platform supports runs several co-extensive longitudinal data from the Birth to Twenty cohort, the longest running study of child and adolescent health and development in Africa.

MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt Research Unit)
An extramural unit of the South African Medical Research Council and research entity of Wits University, the Agincourt Research Unit has a rural field centre based in Bushbuckridge sub-district, Mpumalanga Province, 500km northeast of Johannesburg. The study area is located alongside the western border of Mozambique and comprises 31 contiguous villages with a population of some 117,000 people in 20,000 households. The Unit has administrative and scientific offices in Johannesburg within the School of Public Health, administrative and IT offices in the grounds of the Tintswalo district hospital in Acornhoek town, and field, data and analytics offices, a call centre, and a research laboratory in Agincourt village.

Together, the three Wits groups have strength in public health, epidemiology, endocrinology, genetics and bioinformatics. The three groups are also part of AWI-Gen — the NIH-funded Human Health and Heredity in Africa (H3A) collaborative center investigating genetic and environmental factors in cardio-metabolic disorders in African populations (2012-2017). As part of the AWI-Gen project a total of 12000 participants at six sites in four African countries have been recruited and finely phenotyped. All will also be genotyped on the Africa custom genetic single nucleotide polymorphism chip currently under development.