Medical biotechnology seeks novel ways to improving health care delivery. Its primary tool is the understanding at a molecular level of man and the diseases that afflict him. The results range from quicker diagnostic tests, novel medicaments and vaccines, novel surgical tools and therapies etc.
KEY ACTIVITIES / UNITS:
Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory/Medical Diagnostics
Infectious Diseases Research is the main thrust of activities in the Department. Presently, the Medical Biotechnology Research Laboratory which is expected to serve as the fulcrum of all our activities is about 75% done. Our areas of research interest include HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B and C, Onchocerciasis, Trypanosomiasis, Filariasis, Syphilis and other infectious diseases like haemorrhagic fever viruses, respiratory viruses and arboviruses.
Furthermore, recognizing the overall health impact of the availability of rapid diagnostic test kits in a large population as ours, the Agency and Medical Biotechnology Department is collaborating with many local and international partners in the use of recombinant DNA technology in the local production of test kits for many diseases including Hepatitis B & C, Malaria, Syphilis, HIV/AIDS etc. Collaboration with other partners and interest groups is welcome.
Presently the following diagnostic kits have received NAFDAC approval and registration, TRI-HCG Pregnancy Rapid Test Kits, TRI-MALARIA test kit, TRI-HBsAg for the detection of Hepatitis B and TRI-SYPHILIS for the detection of syphilis. The project is currently at the commercialisation stage.
The Department is interested in the local manufacture of Vaccines and other Biologicals. The project is designed to develop Nigeria’s capability to use genetic engineering (Recombinant DNA Technology) to develop vaccines for the six childhood diseases in particular, as well as other diseases such as: Hepatitis B and C, Malaria, Typhoid, HIV/AIDS and the haemorrhagic fever viruses, respiratory viruses and arboviruses.
The Department is working closely with other stakeholders to achieve success in creating these vaccines. Closely aligned to this is research aimed at the local production of thermo stable vaccines.
This unit is also into breeding of experimental animals for research and testing of vaccines for infectious diseases. These tests include analysis of imported vaccines of particular interest to the unit. Vaccine research and production is by nature very capital intensive and that is why the Department welcomes external partners.
Stem Cell / Bone Marrow Transplantation/ Cord Blood Banking
This unit spear heads further research and use of the stem cell/bone marrow transplant technology. This technology has enormous applications which include the treatment of sickle cell anaemia, different cancers, diseases of the nervous system, spinal cord injuries, stroke, mental retardation, heart diseases, reproductive illnesses etc.
The Department plans to collaborate with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, Maryland; The University of Ulm, Germany; National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS), World Bank Step-B and the Six Teaching Hospitals in the six geo-political zones of the Country to utilise the technology in the management and treatment of sickle cell anaemia in the country. The technology has been successfully used to treat sickle cell patients at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) here in Nigeria and efforts are being made to ensure that the technology is available in all the six geopolitical zones.
Also, Cord Blood Banking is a service the Department plans to provide in collaboration with competent partners. Stem cells from cord blood can be very useful in the treatment of genetic diseases developed later in life including genetic infections in close siblings.
The Nigerian Population Research on Environment, Gene and Health (NIPREGH) is a collaboration between the Agency and local / foreign partners.
As part of this project, the Agency is expected to serve as the continental centre for the study of the genetic basis of hypertension amongst Africans. Data on other genetic diseases is also expected to be collected as part of this project. About 57 million Nigerians are hypertensive resulting in complications which lead to hospital admissions and about 16-18% deaths among admitted patients. Understanding the genetic basis of hypertension and its associated cardiovascular complications is a cost effective way of developing strategies towards its prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
The purpose of the NIPREGH project, therefore, is to determine the effects of lifestyle/environmental factors on hypertension and other cardiovascular phenotypes as well as to establish a permanent pool of genetic material that is immediately accessible to address emerging issues in genetic research. We also intend to establish a basis for large scale epidemiological and cohort studies on chronic non communicable diseases in Nigeria.
Medicinal Plants / Extraction and Characterization of Active Components
The Department is interested in basic characterisation, extraction and fractionation of bioactive constituents of medicinal plants in order to study their basic phytochemical constituents; evaluate their antimicrobial activity, minimum inhibitory concentration, maximum bacteriocidal concentration; free radical induced oxidative stress; DNA damage analysis and anti-aging, free radical scavenging assay, reducing power assay, determination of antioxidant and prooxidant activity of the partitioned/fractionated extracts; evaluate the hepartoprotective, cardiovascular, haematological, histological and toxicity properties of these selected plants extract, with emphasis on anti-cancer plants. Presently, many such plants, believed to have medicinal properties by herbalists are in the process of being properly identified and named; in this respect, the Department is collaborating with many local and international Agencies.
Medicinal plants presently definitively identified include the following: - Chromolaena odorata , Euphorbia lateriflora, Spigelia anthelmia, Anthocleista vogelii, Bridelia sp, Lophira alat, Aspilia africana, Calotropis procera, Ocimum gratissimum, Anogeissus leiocarpus, Bryophyllum pinnatum, Commiphora africana.
Nanotechnology/ Radiation Biology and Human Health
One of the key responsibilities of this unit is the integration of nanotechnology into the field of medical science and understanding how nano-scale materials function in biological systems, as well as the clinical applications of this technology in areas such as drug delivery, medical diagnosis, implants and tissue engineering
As a unit we intend to explore the following areas: therapeutic applications and developments, medical imaging applications, cancer treatment, green route for nano-particle synthesis, and other biomedical applications.
The Unit champions the use of radiation to find solutions to most human health ailments. This scientific and technical knowledge will allow us deal with issues like radioprotection and issues related to health technologies, which contribute to the development of the national industrial sector and support the protection of public health.
Production of essential Recombinant Biopharmaceuticals used in clinical therapy including Erythropoietin (anti-anaemia), Interferon alpha 2a (anti-tumour and anti-viral) and Recombinant Human Insulin (against diabetes) is one of the key projects of the Department. The International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Trieste, Italy is working in collaboration with NABDA to transfer the technology to Nigeria for the local production of the three medicaments above
Presently, capacity is being built for the take-off of the project and Biopharmaceuticals Research and Development has been included in the National Pharmacists Training Curriculum. The importance of this project cannot be over emphasised as it is bound to have massive impact on our healthcare systems leading to improved and affordable health care delivery, as well as job creation.
This technology is useful in resolving paternity disputes as well as the control of crime. It is also very important in the proper identification of mutilated bodies at crash sites including military and paramilitary personnel mutilated in the course of duty. Negotiations have reached an advanced stage between the police and the Agency aimed at the establishment of such a facility to service both the Police and other members of the Armed Forces. Collaboration with international partners in this respect would also be welcome.
The Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights adopted by UNESCO advocates the establishment of independent, multidisciplinary and pluralist ethics committees at national, regional or institutional levels. UNESCO’s role as the international clearing house for ethical issues initiated a project to support the establishment and operation of bioethics committees, the ABC Project (Assisting Bioethics Committees). It is in line with this project that National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) was made the UNESCO Focal Point on Bioethics in Nigeria
As the Focal Point for UNESCO Bioethics in Nigeria, NABDA represents the country in the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) and the Inter-Governmental Bioethics Committee (IGBC).
The functions of the unit is to provide advice on ethical problems relating to research, development and application of scientific knowledge, to formulate recommendations concerning guidelines and legislation, develop tools for standard setting, strengthen co-ordination and contacts among experts and institutions and foster debate, education and public awareness, and engagement in bioethics.
A meeting was recently held on the establishment of a National Bioethics Committee and the Drafting of a Legal Framework for Bioethics in Nigeria. The Department considers the completion of these two activities as crucial and critical to conducting ethically sound research in the Agency and the country at large.
Director/Head of Department
Dr Ibeh Bartholomew Okechukwu
Ibeh Bartholomew obtained his MSc degree in Biochemical Pharmacology and Toxicology and Ph.D in Immunochemistry/Medical Biochemistry. He has received academic awards and several international grants and have published extensively in reputable peer reveiw journals mainly in areas of immunology and genomics.
Dr Ibeh has University teaching and supervision experience having served as an external examinar, College board commitee member, book and journal editor and invited contributor to specialized globally published books.
Research focus is on determinants of genetic diversity and effective immunological/cellular responses to primary viral isolates with the intention to create a broadly neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (bnMAbs) targeted at therapeutic and vaccine development. Additionally, identifying biochemical and genomic variants that may be correlated with disease outcomes for possible vaccine candidates.