Despite having the most genetically diverse population in the world, Africa is significantly underrepresented in global disease modelling and drug development. This is especially true of neurological disorders with a significant burden in Sub-Saharan Africa that includes HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder, tuberculous meningitis, autism, and epilepsy. Despite a genetic origin suggested to play a role in individual drug responses, modelling of the diseased brain in populations with a richly diverse African ancestry is largely un-investigated.

The African Stem Cell Initiative focuses on closing this gap by modelling neurological disease and development specifically in African populations. We do this using brain organoids, which are 3D, self-organising, cultured constructs in a dish that mimic the complexity of the human brain.

The impacts of this work include:

•Increased availability of African-specific brain models

•Capacity building in African stem cell and regenerative medicine research and leadership

•Building a powerful drug discovery platform based on an inclusive cellular model

This work will give us a better understanding of the human brain as well as a platform to test potential therapeutics. This will inform our approach not only for Africans, but on a global scale.

The African Stem Cell Initiative is hosted by the Department of Human Biology at the University of Cape Town. Our aim is to develop the first African population derived organoid models of neurological disease to better inform diagnosis and treatment of priority health challenges.

The Initiative is led by Dr Mubeen Goolam who obtained his PhD in Physiology, Development and Neuroscience from the University of Cambridge as the Mary Gray Scholar and completed his Postdoctoral work at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology at the University of Oxford.