By Juliet Umeh
ONE of the major drawbacks of the Nigerian health system is the menace of wrong diagnosis of diseases and the resulting high mortality rates.
Worried by this development, the African Centre for Excellence in Neglected Tropical Diseases and Forensic Biotechnology, ACENTDFB, of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, has called for prioritisation of molecular biology as means of developing more accurate and sustainable diagnostic measures the country.
Molecular biology is the branch of science that deals with the structure and function of the proteins and nucleic acids that are essential to life.
The Director General of NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako, said Nigeria lacked manpower in the area of molecular biology despite its huge population.
Salako, who spoke at a five-day capacity development for molecular biologists in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, noted that in consideration of what molecular biologists do, at the moment, Nigeria does not have enough.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the workshop themed: “Identification of Trypanosomes by Conventional PCR & qPCR” , Salako who was represented by the Deputy DG, NIMR, Dr. Nkiruka Odunukwe, stated: “These days, people are tending towards personalised medicine whereby with knowledge of molecular biology, the organism causing illness in will be identified directly and drugs that will target the disease will be used for treatment.”
She regretted that most diseases are currently being treated with drugs that have multiple activities and are not specific.
“For instance, anti-tumour drugs, while killing tumour cells, also destroy rapidly growing normal cells. That’s why some people after chemotherapy, lose their hair because that drug was not specific or personalised for that place.
“But with genomics which is part of what molecular biologist is all about, we can identify the particular gene that is a problem, address it as personalised drugs without destroying other normal cells,” Odunukwe said.
The Project Coordinator, ACENTDFB, Prof Junaidu Kabir, solicited for more molecular biologists to improve healthcare delivery in Nigeria.
“If you look at our population, we need more of per unit number of molecular biologists. We should also begin to think beyond our country; training people that will go to other countries to work, that is how we can extend development to neighbouring countries and get jobs for our citizens,” he advised.
South African based Molecular Biologist, Mr Christian Dutoziet, said training of more molecular biologists would help Nigeria render more personalised medicine with molecular techniques which is the identity of every human being.
On her own part, NIMR Coordinator for ACENTDFB, Dr Stella Smith, said the workshop, the 3rd in series, is a step ahead of previous ones.
“We are looking at Trypanosomes brucea, a disease of poverty, found in cattle.
“We are looking at how people working in that area would better diagnose this organism, instead of using the conventional microscopic which has limitations.
But with quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction, qPCR, technique, they can really identify the organisms fast.
“Previously, I was doing what is called conventional Polmerish Chain Reaction, PCR, but with qPCR you can identify organisms within one hour instead of hours,” Smith explained.