Three postgraduate programmes in genetics have been introduced at the University of Ghana to train professionals in the handling of diseases such as sickle cell, breast and prostate cancer in the country.
The new programmes are Master of Science (MSc) in Genetic Counselling and Master of Philosophy (MPhil) and Doctorate (PhD) degrees in Medical Molecular Genetics.
They are an integral part of the West Africa Genetic Medicine Centre (WAGMC) of the university under an initiative called GhGenome project which was launched in August last year.
The MSc in Genetic Counselling, the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, started in January last year with seven students.
And this academic year, six students have been admitted to pursue the programme.
The MPhil and PhD in Medical Molecular Genetics programmes will kick off this year.
The Director of the centre, Prof. Fiifi Ofori-Acquah, who disclosed this in an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra, also said a Genomic Medicine Complex building was being constructed at the university to support the training of more health professionals in genetics.
“We hope by the end of the initial funding of the centre in 2025, we would have trained close to 100 students with master’s degrees in various aspects of genetics, about 45 PhDs in different areas of genetics, as well as help develop the consciousness of citizens about genetics,” Prof. Ofori-Acquah, who is also a former Dean of the School of Biomedical and Allied Health Sciences of the university, said.
He added that “we don’t have genetic counselling training in the country. There are other health professionals who have some knowledge to help you understand your genetics but they are not genetic counsellors,” he said.
Prof. Ofori-Acquah also said that the country did not have free standing genetic health clinics except for sickle cell, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
What is genetics?
Prof. Ofori-Acquah, who is a world-renowned researcher and academician in sickle cell disease and genetics, further explained that genetics was a branch of biology that focused on inheritance.
It is about things inherited from parents such as height, colour of skin and length of fingers, he said.
Genetic counsellors are geneticists who interact with patients to explain the process to them, while medical molecular geneticists are people who work in the laboratory.
Prof. Ofori-Acquah said one of the things the centre would do was to mobilise enough funds to ensure that the training programmes were sustained beyond 2025 when the initial funding from the World Bank would have ended.
The GhGenome project, according to Prof. Ofori-Acquah, who is credited with developing the first mouse model of acute chest syndrome in sickle cell disease, was to increase awareness of genetics and its role in well-being, general health and diseases.
It was also to help build the capacity of the country to provide services in genetic health.
Prof. Ofori-Acquah said as part of the awareness process, the centre provided free screening for diseases such as sickle cell disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
The Genome scientist further said that the country had not done enough on awareness creation of citizens testing to know their genetic status.
He, therefore, called on the people to take the GhGenome Pledge to find out their sickle cell status before marriage, get their newborn babies tested for sickle cell disease before their first immunisation and also find out the risk of getting breast cancer, among other diseases.