Marcus G. Davey, senior research investigator at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, demonstrate a womb-like device called Extend, for premature babies who need a ventilator. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: An experimental study launched on Tuesday that uses genome science to detect rare genetic disorders could have a ‘huge impact’ on UAE society, according to an official.

The study conducted by Emirati expertise and announced by the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHP) at this week’s Arab Health forum, has already succeeded in discovering a new genetic mutation, according to Tuesday’s statement from the ministry.

The statement added that the study now aims to predict and prevent diseases listed in the National Agenda 2021, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and asthma, to achieve personalised treatment plans via an App for each patient according to their genetic make-up.

This will be achieved by using genome science and modern genetic modelling and sequencing technology to identify the genetic footprint and build a genome database for the country, added the statement.

Such a study is vital to the UAE given the high rate of marriage between cousins within the local population, which increases the risk of genetic disease. Not only would the study be used to achieve a more accurate diagnosis, allowing doctors to prescribe suitable medications with accurate dosage, but it could also be used in pre-marriage screening, the statement added.

The study is part of a wider UAE Genome Project, which will be completed by 2021, in line with the National Innovation Strategy.

“This initiative is conducted fully by national expertise, in collaboration with highest research centres in the world,” said Dr Yousuf Al Serkal, Assistant Undersecretary for the Hospitals Sector and Chairman of the UAE Genome Project Committee.

“The initiative will have a huge impact on health care policies in the future, and will place the UAE as a leader in the health care innovation, thus elevating its position on the global competitiveness index,” he added.

Dr Kalthoum Al Beloushi, Director of Hospitals Administration, said the study was progressing well.

“We have performed genetic screening for heart anomalies and genetic cancer on a number of local patients,” she said. “We have also analysed the genome as a whole, including 22K genes, for a number of Emirati families who gave birth to children with genetic anomalies, to identify genes responsible for these anomalies and help these families give birth to healthy children in the future.”

What is genome science?

A genome is an organism’s complete DNA including all of its genes. Genome science is a study focusing on structure, function, evolution, mapping and editing of genomes. Through this one can detect abnormalities to diagnose and prevent the development of disease.

Why is this so important here?

The high prevalence of marriage between cousins in local society makes the UAE population more at risk of genetic diseases. Any study to counter this would have a huge impact not only on the UAE but also the region as a whole.