Humaid Al Qutami and Sytlianos Antonarkis Image Credit: Courtesy: Organiser

Dubai: Geneticists are closer to developing new precision treatments for all kinds of cancers, their mutations and metastasis (spread of the disease) thanks to the completion of the human genome sequencing, it was revealed at the sixth pan-Arab Human Genetics Conference that began in Dubai on Thursday.

The three-day conference, organised by the Dubai-based Centre for Genomic Studies (CAGS) under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Medical Award, is being attended by international geneticists who are looking at multi-factorial disorders in the Arab populations such as cancers, Type I and Type II diabetes and metabolic, congenital and neuro-development disorders.

Professor Stylianos Antonarakis, President of the Human Genome Organisation and geneticist from the University of Geneva, told Gulf News on the sidelines of the conference, “All cancers in the human body are caused due to somatic-genetic mutations that occur as cells undergo division several times. With the completion of the sequencing of the human genome, we are closer to finding a cure for the driver genes for cancer.”

Elaborating on whether all cancers were genetic, Dr Antonarakis explained: “We are all born with our specific genomes and there is a tremendous variation from individual to individual and our cells undergo rapid division from time to time. Every time a cell divides, it accumulates mutations, most of which are neutral. However, sometimes, certain mutations that occur in our ‘onco’ genes or tumour suppressant genes, produce proteins that trigger abnormal growth making it cancerous. All cancers occur due to this type of mutation. Some of these mutations are schotastic (happening by chance) while others have environmental triggers.”

The professor referred to factors such as overexposure to the sun, for example, as a trigger for [skin] melanoma or cancer. “Research has already pointed out [these factors],” he said. “Smoking triggers lung and bladder cancers, processed meat can trigger colon cancer.

“What we are doing is sequencing the cancerous gene and sequencing an individual’s blood to find the onco genes and target the driver cells that cause the cancer. In some cases, treatment triggers the cancerous cells to further metastise [or spread], so we resequence the metastised cells to deliver treatment. Drugs are being made for such personalised precision therapies. It is like an arms race where we are competing with the cancer cells to accumulate weapons to target their destruction as soon as they develop,” he said.

Soon, all kinds of cancers, their mutations and metastasis will be sequenced and geneticists will be able to develop new precision treatments, said Prof. Antonarakis.

On the regional health concerns of genetic diseases, Dr Abdu Razzak Hamzeh, Senior Scientific Coordinator at CAGS, presented a paper on his effort of collating all raw data as well as the published research on Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA Class II) cells that are responsible for triggering Type I diabetes among the Arab population. “In this paper, I have [referred to] all the possible alleles (variant) genes that predispose or protect from Type I diabetes in the region. This research was available in differing places; I have computed and consolidated this data bringing us a step closer to the cure of Type I diabetes as research continues.”

By studying the behaviours of these genes, it is possible to determine which will predispose and which will prevent the types of diabetes, said Dr Hamzeh.

Dr Hamzeh said that according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), every year, nearly 10,000 new cases of Type I diabetes are diagnosed in the Middle East region. “While Type I diabetes is manageable with new tools of therapy, genomic research will bring us close to curing it,” he said.

Experts at the conference also recognised that consanguinity ((blood relation) is one of the major causes of genetic disorders in the region and gene sequencing was helping to provide a full spectrum of ‘recessive genes’, which are likely to cause these disorders.

The conference was inaugurated by Humaid Al Qutami, Chairman and Director General of the Dubai Health Authority and Deputy Chairman of the Hamdan Medical Awards. Al Qutami congratulated the Arab World on the progress made in genetic research, especially the vast repository of research in the Catalogue for Transmission of Genetic Anomalies (CTGA) curated by CAGS.

Other keynote speakers at the conference were professor Mark McCarthy from Oxford University on Genetics and Type II diabetes, Dr Annette Gjesing from Denmark University on Gestational Diabetes and Dr Vadim Stepanov from Russia on the genetics of obesity, among other speakers.