By Joyce Ojanji
The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) has unveiled a Centre of Excellence in Stem Cell Research that will enable scientists to develop new therapies to regenerate and repair tissues that have been damaged or affected by diseases or accidents.
The centre which is located at KEMRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, will help in addressing the country’s burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) which account for more than half of in-patient hospital admissions and two out of ten deaths in the country.
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) account for the majority of NCD-related deaths in the country, a trend that is worrying and hence a dire need to find solutions to tackle these diseases including new approaches for prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure of such diseases, said Dr. Abdullahi Ali, Chairman, KEMRI Board of Directors during the commissioning of the Centre in Nairobi.
According to Dr.Ali, KEMRI has been at the forefront of developing new tools and insights for the health security of the country and the region from potential epidemics despite major efforts being on infectious diseases.
He noted that the commissioning of this Centre of Excellence in Stem Cell Research will not only advance the area of cell biology but also assist in offering better treatments for the world’s most devastating diseases and conditions including cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, spinal cord injuries, strokes and burns.
“As research scientists, we believe stem cell research will increase a deeper understanding of how diseases occur and how best we can tackle them. I understand that through this research, it may soon be possible to generate healthy cells to replace those affected cells by cancer, road accidents and other diseases in what is known as regenerative medicine,’’ he added.
Moreover, KEMRI Acting Director General, Prof. Elijah Songok applauded the National Research Fund for leading KEMRI into this space of regenerative medicine by funding the project at ksh. 77.2 million.
In response to the current government’s priority agenda of local manufacturing of medical products, he noted that KEMRI has been identified by the Government to anchor Kenya’s emerging biotech industries.
“We have a highly trained and experienced team of Researchers and Development (R&D) scientists who have developed candidate vaccines, diagnostic kits and drugs against various diseases. These KEMRI products are ready for large-scale manufacturing through local and international manufacturers establishing their footprints in Kenya and the region,’’ Songok said.
He noted that due to experience in biotechnology, KEMRI is also establishing a course in biomanufacturing. This will provide the necessary trained workforce for local and international biomedical manufacturing companies setting up shop in the region. This training hub will draw students from the whole African region who have an interest in biomanufacturing.
“KEMRI is at an advanced stage of working with the Commission for University Education for accreditation to offer postgraduate courses in specific areas of product development from discovery to clinical trials. We are hence grateful for NRF to include the stem cell technologies in our research and development programs,’’ Songok added.
Prof. Ratemo Michieka, NRF Board of Trustees Chairman NRF chair, officiated at the ceremony and called for more funding in research as a catalyst of development and mass job creation.
“Let us explore more to find research facts that will help in improving human health, as NRF we are committed to working closely with KEMRI in pursuit of better health outcomes,” urged Prof. Michieka.