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An innovative computational biology training module was launched in November 2022 at the African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology (AiBST) in Harare, Zimbabwe, where MSc students were trained in single-cell RNA sequencing data analysis.

Zimbabwe single cell sequencing analysis course team
Researchers from Oxford taught single-cell sequencing analysis to MSc students in Harare

Researchers from Oxford taught the four-week course in a semi-hybrid mode, beginning with two weeks online introduction to data science and genomics analysis using the statistical programming language R, by Dr Carla Cohen (WIMM/NDORMS) and Dr Kevin Rue-Albrecht (WIMM). This acted as the foundation for Assoc Prof Adam Cribbs, Assoc Prof David Sims, and Dr Cohen to deliver a two week in-person single-cell sequencing analysis course at AiBST in Harare. After learning about single-cell RNA sequencing data analysis workflows, the students used their new skills to analyse unpublished single-cell sequencing data from tendon tissue in the final week.

Prof Sims commented on the commitment of the participants, 'I was really impressed by the enthusiasm and work effort of all the students. They really made the most of the training and hopefully will use it as a platform for their future careers.'

The pilot course was based on the Oxford Biomedical Data Science Training Programme developed by Prof Sims at the Weatherall Institute for Molecular Medicine, and complemented AiBST's ongoing two-year master's degree in Genomics and Precision Medicine, led by Dr Zedias Chikwambi. Teaching was based on a "train the trainer" approach and demonstrated that advanced computational biology training in low-income countries can be successfully delivered both remotely and in person.

Empowering data analysis within traditionally under-represented countries is at the heart of the Ancestrally Inclusive Musculoskeletal single-cell (AIMS) network, which was set up in April 2022, with funding of $2 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). The ambitious project is developing an international single-cell sequencing network to create the first ancestrally inclusive atlas of musculoskeletal cells, by analysing tissue samples from seven sites worldwide (Argentina, the Gambia, India, Oman, Turkey, UK and Zimbabwe). Alongside the flagship course, the president of AiBST Prof Collen Masimirembwa is working with Prof Cribbs to establish a single-cell sequencing laboratory and further training in musculoskeletal tissue processing techniques. A better understanding of barriers and enablers to adopting single-cell sequencing methods in low-income countries will allow the team to deliver further training and assistance across the wider network in the future.

Prof Cribbs, group leader in Systems Biology at NDORMS and computational lead for AIMS network emphasised the importance of education: 'Training is critical for achieving the goals of our network. Having a decentralised approach for collecting, processing and then analysis of the data is vital for empowering the future generation of scientists in low-income countries.'