MUHAS coordinates UK-Africa child blood cancer test project

18Feb 2020
Henry Mwangonde
The Guardian
MUHAS coordinates UK-Africa child blood cancer test project

​​​​​​​TANZANIAN scientists in collaboration with their counterparts from Uganda and Oxford University in the United Kingdom have launched a research program to enhance child blood cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Child blood cancer is a deadly disease, chiefly the Epstein-Barr Virus-related lymphomas (EBV lymphoma) which kills thousands of  children in sub-Saharan Africa annually.

The UK has injected 13.5bn/- in the project which will run for four years. During implementation, scientists will test new technologies for early diagnosis of infection related lymphomas in children.

Speaking at the launching ceremony yesterday, Dr Clara Chamba, a principal investigator for the project at MUHAS said when someone has a cancerous tumor, tiny bits of it break off and go into the patient’s blood.

“We know that DNA that comes from cancerous cells has unique changes that in theory could be picked up by a sensitive genetic test. We need to get the tiny fragments of DNA that might be from a tumor, genetically sequence them to be used for diagnosis,” she said.

Although it is difficult, researchers believe they can succeed and MIHAS become the first place in the world to diagnose blood cancer through the new technology, she stated.

Anna Schuh, professor of haematology from the University of Oxford who leads the research said that the team hopes to “bring next-generation genetic sequencing technology and artificial intelligence tools to assist with mobile digital pathology to Tanzania and Uganda.”

“This new technology can make rapid improvements in medical diagnostics. Successful implementation of the project will enable the tests be used for other cancer types and applied across sub-Saharan Africa,” she said.

 Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) Director for Medical Services, Dr Hedwiga Swai said in a speech that critical shortage of pathologists is one reason for delayed diagnosis in patients with cancer including children with lymphoma.

She said the project is expected to provide a possible solution for early diagnosis of cancer in children and consequently increase their chances of survival.

Medical teams participating in the project are based at the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) and St Mary’s Hospital in Lacor, Uganda. DNA sequencing will be led by the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS).

This week study team members are meeting for a workshop with a team from the University of Oxford and other international experts to learn best practice pathology techniques and latest DNA sequencing methods and technologies.

Upon completion, the project is expected to diminish the pain that children patients endure during surgeries which involve needle cell removal of cancer tumors, a process that is long and requires advanced training to conduct.

The team believes that by sharing best practices and bringing the latest advances in genetic testing to East Africa, it is possible to set up affordable, effective cancer diagnostics, which rely on simple blood tests.