Dubai: A team of scientists from Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) played a vital role in supporting Dubai’s response to COVID-19 through crucial viral genomic surveillance research. The result of these studies have now been published in several international peer-reviewed journals, providing crucial reference material to the academic and medical community.
Commenting on the impact of the study, Dr Ahmad Abou Tayoun, Director of Genomics Centre, Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital and Associate Professor of Genetics, MBRU, said: “This research was instrumental in tracing the origins of the virus early on in the UAE, identifying problem areas and providing vital inputs on the scale, intensity and scope of the response to the pandemic. Given Dubai’s geographic position and role as a bridge between the East and West, the findings of our research have also helped calibrate and tweak frontline strategies in the global response to the pandemic.”
Tracking the COVID-19 fingerprint
Scientists from MBRU collaborated with scientists from Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the Genomic Center at Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital (Al Jalila Children’s) to understand how the virus mutates when passed from person to person over weeks and months and examined its genomic ‘fingerprint’ to track the origin, spread and possible mutations within a population. The studies contributed to shaping Dubai’s data-driven approach to managing the pandemic.
Cost-effective virus surveillance
The team developed a scalable, cost-effective method for large-scale genomic surveillance of the virus, which demonstrated high accuracy in identifying the origin and distinguishing modes of transmission in Dubai and the UAE. The team also mapped the origin and timing of the start of the COVID-19 infection during the early stage of the pandemic, including early geographical clusters. The study also shed light on how factors such as age, gender and underlying health conditions combined with specific mutations of the virus to decide disease severity.
Additionally, the research team also identified how cells function in patients with severe COVID-19, that can be used to predict disease outcomes in those patients and allow health-care professionals to tailor the intensity of treatment.
Virus genome sequenced fully
Full genome sequencing of the virus from Dubai was shared with the global scientific community, delivering critical insights to assist the world’s battle with the disease, providing particularly crucial information on the spread of the virus globally and specifically in Europe.
Laudable scientific research
Professor Alawi Alsheikh-Ali, Deputy Director General, DHA, and Chair of the Scientific Advisory Group for Dubai COVID-19 Command and Control Centre, and Member of MBRU’s Board of Trustees, said: “Scientific research is a highly prized resource that has informed and guided Dubai’s measured and balanced response to the pandemic. Collaboration with leading academic and medical institutions in Dubai was the key, highlighting the value of an integrated academic health system.”