Geoffrey Siwo, a biologist at IBM Research Africa, says that when people think about Africa, "they think about infectious diseases like TB or malaria, but the elderly population in Africa is growing and with that comes increased risk of cancer and other non-communicable diseases."
Pictured: a breast cancer patient at the Khartoum Breast Care Centre in Sudan, October 2015. ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
Siwo and his team in South Africa were interested in data driven genomic healthcare. "We found that breast cancer patients expressing low levels of [the Duffy Antigen Receptor (DARC)] gene, a pattern more frequent in Africans, have lower survival rates compared to those expressing high levels of this gene, a pattern frequent in Caucasians," he says.
Pictured: a screen grab from the team's research data mapping cancer metastasis. Christopher P. Sciacca/IBM Research
"The knowledge that low expression of DARC might influence breast cancer outcomes, especially in some breast cancer patients means that in future it could potentially be used for personalizing therapy or precision medicine," says Siwo.
Pictured: a screen grab from the findings presented to the American Society for Human Genetics symposium. Christopher P. Sciacca/IBM Research
Reliable and up-to-date information on new occurrences of cancer within Africa is notoriously difficult to collect. The team wants to work towards faster data collection within South Africa and more widely across the African continent. "By tracking data digitally and pooling efforts across Africa, we can attempt to improve the accuracy of incidence figures," explains Siwo (pictured). Christopher P. Sciacca/IBM Research
Greater access to technology means "we are looking at solving problems in Africa in a way we never thought possible before," Siwo says. "We are not only looking at how technology will enable us now but we are starting to think about how technology will work in the future."
Pictured: the team of researchers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Courtesy Ryan James
Siwo believes cancer and other non-communicable diseases will start to impact Africans more so than elsewhere, due to how unprepared the region is to handle new cases. "We are attempting to find long term solutions," he says.
Pictured: researchers at work in South Africa. Christopher P. Sciacca/IBM Research