• Friday, March 01, 2024
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Unlocking Nigeria’s molecular biology space



he sad incident of the Dana crash of March 2012 and protracted delays that preceded the release of bodies to affected families portrayed Nigeria’s inability to carry out Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) biotechnology to the international community.

While countries like United States of America, Britain, Germany, and so on, have deployed recent advances in molecular biology and biotechnology in preventive medicine (preparation of vaccine), treatment (drug production), gene therapy, genetic modification, cancer therapies, Nigeria has remained a spectator, not participating in the emerging field of molecular science and biotechnology.

As advances in medicine are based on genetics, molecular biology remains an excellent tool in finding the problematic genes in a person’s body and counteracting their effects. This way, molecular biologists, can get to the problem at the source rather than treating symptoms as is usually the case.

With Chevron/Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)’s donation of a molecular biology laboratory, valued at one hundred million naira (N100 million) to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, molecular biologists, will reduce medical tourism and allow more Nigerians have access to advanced healthcare.

Speaking to BusinessDay, Rhonda Zygocki, vice president, policy and planning, Chevron Corporation revealed that with the establishment of the lab at LUTH, the NNPC/Chevron joint venture has unlocked DNA biotechnology for the country.

While the hospital will provide services for Nigerians which hitherto were not available in-country, this will afford the hospital the opportunity to explore cells, their characteristics, parts, and chemical processes, and pays special attention to how molecules control a cell’s activities and growth.

“This is a remarkable boost to healthcare delivery in Nigeria and expresses Chevron’s commitment to partnering with governments and other institutions for the development of the nation’s health sector. We expect that in no distant time, laboratory samples from other hospitals will be treated in this facility.

“Over the years, we have seen that the success of our company depends on the success of the communities we operate. In pursuit of our corporate responsibility obligations, we view healthcare as a crucial social service that we should support government to implement as there can be no development in a society where people are plagued by ill-health,” Zygocki explained.

Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health, noted that the Centre will enable the hospital to establish a Stem Cell Transplantation Unit, a DNA laboratory, and a Nuclear Medicine facility.

Abdulsalami Nasidi, director, federal ministry of health, who represented the minister, noted that commissioning of the molecular biology laboratory centre, will make Nigeria become a destination of choice for medical tourism, especially from neighbouring African countries.

“The availability of this centre will have a significant impact as thousands of Nigerians who could not afford overseas medical treatment now have access to quality and affordable healthcare services, which will be provided by this facility.

“I wish to thank Chevron for their commitment in improving healthcare in the country, especially in releasing additional $5 million funding for the Prevention of Mother and Child Transmission (PMTCT) of Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in Nigeria,” Chukwu stated.

The Centre, which is the first of its kind in operation in West Africa, is targeted at providing preventive diagnosis of sickle cell anaemia, DNA finger printing (using biologic product to identify individuals ), parentage testing, screening for breast cancer gene I and II (BRCA ½) and other types of molecular diagnosis.

The 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine award to Francis H. Crick, James D. Watson, and Maurice H. F. Wilkins, for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material, indeed revolutionised medical research and drug development globally.

While this development repositions Nigeria within the sub-region, human capital development, public-private sector involvement in science and health as well as the political will to drive advances in molecular biology, experts believe, will set the country on the path of excellence in medical research and drug development.

By:  Alexander Chiejina