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International congress of Human Genetics 'comes home' to Africa

- Wits University

South Africa will host the 14th International Congress of Human Genetics (ICHG 2023) themed 'Coming Home' from 22 to 26 February 2023.

Held for the first time on the African continent, the ICHG 2023 brings together over 1200 researchers from across the world to discuss and exchange ideas on the latest developments and research in Human Genetics.

The meeting is hosted by the African Society of Human Genetics, the Southern  African Society of Human Genetics and the International Federation of Human Genetics Societies.

Human Genetics is the study of the genetic make-up and variations within the human species. It examines how genes are inherited by offspring from their parents, as well as how they affect physical traits, behaviour, and health. Through research in this field, scientists have gained insights into why some individuals may be more likely than others to develop certain diseases or have different responses to medications.

Human Genetics can also provide clues about our evolutionary history, helping us understand where we came from and how humans differ today based on their unique gene sequences. Part of our genetic adaptation is due to our environment and to movements of people across the planet.

Inclusive Genomics

Professor Michèle Ramsay, President of the International Federation of Human Genetics Societies, says, “This International Human Genetics Congress will showcase the forefront of genomics research across the world, with a special focus on Africa. Most importantly, there will be deliberations on strategies to promote equity and inclusion, and how our community can promote responsible data sharing by agreeing on standards and mechanisms that are ethically sound and legally compliant.”

Prof. Michèle Ramsay is a commissioner on the international report on Heritable Human Genome Editing released in the UK on 3 September 2020

Ramsay, who is also the Director of the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB) at Wits University in Johannesburg,  says the impact of precision medicine approaches to improve health could be relevant no matter where a person happens to be born, provided there is research and data from their communities. The events and meetings, which include industry partners, will have a strong focus on initiatives that are more inclusive of the poorer resourced regions and countries worldwide.

Professor Raj Ramesar, Co-Chair of the Conference Organising Committee and Head of the Division of Human Genetics at the University of Cape Town (UCT), says, “Attending a conference on Human Genetics hosted in Africa is important for scientists as it provides an excellent opportunity to gain insights into the latest trends, technologies and research in the field and to network with other researchers and practitioners from around the world. In addition, attending such an event can help create new collaborations that could lead to ground-breaking discoveries or advancements. Ultimately, conferences like these are invaluable resources for any scientist looking to stay at the forefront of their field.”

Bringing it home to Africa

The ‘out of Africa’ theory is based on genetic evidence that suggests that anatomically modern humans (our species – homo sapiens) originated and evolved in Africa around 300,000 years ago and then migrated throughout the world. Now it is time to ‘come home’!

Ramesar says the theme of this year’s meeting, 'Coming Home', was chosen to celebrate the common origin of all humanity here on the African continent.

“This meeting is an invitation to the world’s geneticists to ‘come home’, and to deliberate about our common heritage and the remarkable advances that have been made with the tools of Genomics, which have emerged from great endeavours like the Human Genome Project," says Raemsar. "It is also an opportunity to assess, while visiting home, the role that genomics has played, and is going to make in advancing human and global health.”

Young investigators

As part of ICHG 2023, the Global Young Investigators Forum in Genetics and Genomics is bringing together over 100 graduate students and early career researchers from Africa and the rest of the world, giving them the opportunity to present cutting-edge research as oral presentations on human genetics, ethics, bioinformatics, and the social implications of genomics and genetic medicine globally.

The research to be highlighted covers a wide range of genetic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disorders, hearing loss, blindness, psychiatric disorders, as well as the fields of bioinformatics, bioethics, capacity building, and many others interesting topics.

The Global Young Investigators Forum takes place from 08:00-17:30 on 21 February 2023 at the Sarah Baartman Hall, University Avenue Upper Campus, UCT.

Ramsay concludes, “For those who are fascinated by the history of our species, homo sapiens, there will be talks on how the DNA from people who are alive today, and from the rare ancient genomes we now have access to, are shedding light on migration, admixture and infectious epidemics that have left their footprints in our DNA.”