‘Genomic sequencing game-changer for cancer detection’ Speaking on the sidelines of a media tour of the Cimas medical laboratory last week, group medical advisor Dr Tsitsi Moyo said gene sequencing would pave way for improved research that would ensure that genome was included in all aspects of healthcare, from diagnostics to pharmaceuticals and every aspect of science. 

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke-Senior Health Reporter

Zimbabwe’s private health sector has taken the initiative to complement Government efforts to improve early detection of cancers and other diseases through the use of DNA.

Cimas Medical Aid Society recently procured a genetic sequencing machine, making it one of the few organisations in possession of such technology that could revolutionise the detection of diseases and improve public health outcomes.

By studying the genetic make up of any organism, including a human being, genetic sequencing can help identify infectious viruses and bacteria and so help medical experts work out what drugs or other treatment could be most effective, and in something like cancer, research can help identify people who might have a higher risk of a particular cancer.

When dealing with people, genomics is the study of a person’s genes (the genome), including the interaction of those genes with each other and with the environment. 

The genome contains important clues about a person, from their ancestry to the way their body responds to diseases, medication and aging.

The use of genomic sequencing became one of the valuable tools in the global and national response to the Covid-19 pandemic as it was used to track the spread of viruses, how the viruses were changing and how those changes could affect public health.

Information from genetic surveillance, used together with clinical and epidemiological data, guided the development of vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostic assays as well as decisions on public health and social measures.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care introduced genomic sequencing in May 2021 through repurposing laboratory departments that had been dedicated to other viral diseases until then, making them able to respond to a far wider range of research and diagnostic uses.

The coming on board of the private sector in this field, could revolutionise surveillance for other diseases and inform public health decisions.

Speaking on the sidelines of a media tour of the Cimas medical laboratory last week, group medical advisor Dr Tsitsi Moyo said gene sequencing would pave way for improved research that would ensure that genome was included in all aspects of healthcare, from diagnostics to pharmaceuticals and every aspect of science. 

“What the sequencer does is to help us to look at the genetic makeup of the people that we are treating,” she said. 

“This is helping us in terms of screening for diseases. We can look at adults or children and identify who is prone to cancer, what kind of treatment can we use; then we can proactively plan from a public health perspective or even from a funding perspective. 

“We can proactively plan for what to expect in our population for the next five to 10 years into the future.” 

Presently, over 5 000 new cancer cases of all types are diagnosed in Zimbabwe annually, but the majority of these are not diagnosed in the early stages, thus increasing the mortality rates.

The national cancer prevention and control strategy for Zimbabwe says early diagnosis of cancer is crucial in reducing cancer-related deaths.

Dr Moyo said most treatments being used were generic, meaning some patients with resistance might not respond to it, hence genetic studies are used to ensure such patients receive treatments that are suited to their type of illness.

“Cimas Medlabs is immensely proud to be at the forefront of genetic research and personalised medicine. 

“We remain committed to advancing medical knowledge and improving patient outcomes through ground-breaking research and technology,” she noted.

Ms Laurels Nyamasoka, the Cimas Medlabs team leader for the lab sections, said the study of genomes would not only be used in the fight against cancer, but also understand how genes contribute to other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

“You can use DNA studies in diagnostics and in preventative medicine where you are trying to see if someone has an increased risk of developing a certain disease or condition that has already been discovered to be associated with a gene or DNA. 

“You can also use DNA studies to assess a person’s lifestyle wellness and their response to diet, how each individual is able to break down different types of foods in their bodies,” said Dr Moyo.

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