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First phase of genome project to begin with 1,000 Emiratis.

Summary: All residents can volunteer and register and be part of the ambitious project that aims to take medicine to a personalised level.

Asma Ali Zain

(Alamy Image)

The Dubai Health Authority will start the first phase of its ambitious genome project by summer.

All residents can volunteer and register and be part of the ambitious project that aims to take medicine to personalised level, which translates to "One drug, one disease, one person."

"We hope to change the mantra from 'one drug treating many diseases to 'one drug, one disease, one person," said Dr Hemad Yasaei, specialist genetist at Latifa Hospital. "This will be personalised medicine because we are all different," he said.

Dr Hemad said that though the first phase sequence 1,000 Emiratis, all residents could register for the project. "We will have a nice map starting off with the Emiratis, but Dubai gives us a wide range with the number of nationalities who reside here," he said, adding that sample collection would start from summer.

The UAE has 220 genetic diseases that are prevalent. Other diseases that will be given attention are breast and prostate cancer (which top the list of cancers), diseases that cause intellectual disability as well as blindness.

Not all who register will be called initially. Texts will be sent out to those who register, and they will be called to give out blood samples. Those chosen will also be asked for a family history, lifestyle as well as other environmental factors. "Samples collected will be put through an Artificial Intelligence (AI) machine to start the sequencing," said Dr Hemad. However, no patients will be identified in the entire process though they will be divided into nationalities.

In the second phase of the project, collected data will be analysed and patterns will be looked for to start predicting diseases before they happen. "If a disease is identified early on, it is easier to manage it in the long run. So in this case, even children can be enrolled for the project. And we take mouth swabs instead of blood samples from them," he explained.

Also, once the sequencing is done, only people with gene mutations that can cause disease will be informed through their family doctors.

The third phase will focus on the science of precision medicine by collaborating with interested pharmaceutical companies and academia to identify and design the drugs of the future.

Dr Hemad said that the project was huge and Dubai would be following the UK benchmark, since the latter has already sequenced 100,000 people.

Dubai Genome Project at a glance

1-Massive genomic databank to cover citizens and residents alike

2-Predict diseases before they occur using AI

3-AI goes through database, finds out who has been affected, and looks for non-patients with similar genetic profiles and therefore at risk

4-Results from the project eradicate/contain genetic illnesses

5-Counselling individuals at risk, allowing lifestyle changes

6-Facilitate the adoption of personalised medicine

7-Preventive/treatment protocols created and published

8-Happy and healthy society

KT Nano Edit

Genome genius

Astonishing advances are being made in the health space, in the UAE. The latest project of DNA sequencing and genome mapping will open up a new chapter and a range of possibilities for detection of diseases before they occur. Prevention is always better than cure. Countries such as the UK and the US have already taken a lead, and now with the UAE taking steps towards this newfound science, it is the common man that'll benefit the most.

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Feb 25, 2018
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