Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
Zimbabwe should take steps to adopt new technological and research advances brought about by genomic medicine to improve the treatment and prevention of diseases, says Professor Charles Nhachi, a veteran clinical pharmacologist and researcher with the College of Health Sciences.
Presenting the Stephen Chandiwana Memorial Lecture at the Annual Medical Research Day which was held recently in the capital, Prof Nhachi said personalised medicine was the next vital step for the country to develop test systems to deliver genomics in the health system to improve patient outcomes and reduce unnecessary deaths.
A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA which contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism.
“Zimbabwe should now adopt genetic testing technologies (genotyping) to improve choice of therapy and treatment,” he said.
“This will reduce the risk of unnecessary deaths due to side effects of drugs. We should now move from the ‘one size fits all’ approach to personalised medicine that reduces drug wastage, rapid progression of diseases and improves treatment outcomes.
“With HIV and cancer drugs we are still having a lot of problems with toxicity problems. The dosage and type of drugs used in treating one person may be different from another person. ARV response in one person differs from another and we need to do gene testing to improve drug safety and treatment outcomes.”
Prof Nhachi said genetic testing is often done on a sample of blood, hair, skin and other fluid or tissue to help determine the choice of drugs and treatment on a patient.
“Genetic testing can help people to make informed decisions about managing their health care needs,” he said. “The only barrier is the cost of gene testing but we must move slowly to develop personalised medicine.
“This is what we really want to get at — personalised medicine where drug administration is tailor-made to offer the right drug, to the right patient and for the right disease.
“We should aim to match the patient to the right drug instead of general application. This should help us to predict susceptibility and risk factors as well as prevent disease progression.”
The University of Zimbabwe Medical School now has a DNA sequencing machine which was donated by the government of Netherlands. Significant inroads were now being made to make genetic test to improve treatment outcomes.
Health experts define genome as all of a living thing’s genetic material. It is the entire set of hereditary instructions for building, running, and maintaining an organism, and passing life on to the next generation.
Prof Nhachi said understanding genome has the potential to improve the treatment of diseases and what treatments may be most effective. More importantly, it may also indicate treatments likely to cause adverse reactions.
“The major challenge is that genetyping is still expensive and we still need to determine to what extent it will reduce the overall cost of healthcare,”the veteran pharmacologist and toxicologist said.
“It’s the future of medicine.
Prof Nhachi said when genome sequencing is performed for health care, it will need to be managed in such a way that people can be sure their genomic information will be kept safely and held confidentially.
“Confidentiality is very important in handling such information for patients,” he said. “We need to be sure how such information will be handled and shared.”
The UZ Institute of Continuing Health Education held the 27th Annual Medical Research Day to showcase and offer innovative solutions to some of the country’s pressing healthcare problems.
It was held under the theme “Innovative Research for Health Care”.
The event brought together the brightest minds across the UZ Medical School to share their research with peers. A number of papers were presented at this event which drew more than 250 people.