UAE heading towards genome era

Genomes - an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes - of any two people are more than 99 per cent the same.

The UAE is always at the forefront of providing best to its citizens and this is true for the generations to come. The current indication of setting up state-of-the art genome centre proves that the leadership of the country firmly believes in creating a healthy society for its citizens.

As early as 1963, the World Health Organisation (WHO) observed that genetic considerations can add a new dimension to public health work - a concern not only for the health and wellbeing of persons now living, but also for generations yet to come.

Genes are stretches of DNA - the chemical substance that makes up genetic material - that serve as a sort of tutoring manual telling our body how to make the proteins and perform the other tasks that your body needs.

Genomes - an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes - of any two people are more than 99 per cent the same. Still, the tiny fraction of the genome that varies among humans is very important. These DNA variations are part of what makes each of us unique. They affect the colour of your eyes, hair and skin. They also influence the risk of a disease and response to drugs.

Genomics - an interdisciplinary field of science focusing on the structure, function, evolution, mapping, and editing of genomes - holds answers to 7,000 rare genetic diseases. There are more than 350 million people living with such rare diseases worldwide, more than cancer and Aids patients combined.

The UAE government has launched an initiative to set up state of the art Genome Centre to utilise the benefits of genetic science and to implement modern and innovative techniques, which includes DNA sequencing, profiling and micro-array. This initiative will not only help in controlling the spread of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer but will also provide a platform to create personalised medicine programme for individual patient.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap,) in collaboration with Pure Health Laboratory Network, is planning to launch the first phase of genome centre soon. The partners are eyeing on a nationwide programme in a bid to create genome database for all genetic diseases in the UAE. The method will enable the healthcare service providers to explore the field of pharmacogenomics and determining the likely response of an individual to therapeutic drugs.

“By bringing in novel tests to the UAE, the quality of healthcare provided to the patients can be tremendously improved. Advances in genomics promises more targeted and personalised approaches to screening such as stratifying the population on the basis of differing levels of genetic risks,” said Prasanth Manghat, CEO and executive director, NMC Health.

“Progress in genomics is being made faster than anyone ever envisaged as possible.

We are learning more about human genome and what it may mean for our future.

In the next few years, the use of genomic data in healthcare will rapidly increase. The NMC Healthcare will always be at the forefront of such initiatives to bring novel technologies and treatment methodologies to the UAE for the wellbeing of the residents and our future generations. We have taken major steps towards preparing ourself for this exciting new era: The Genome Era. We are working closely with the regulatory on such futuristic technologies to bring a disease-free brighter tomorrow to our future generations. I strongly believe in access to quality healthcare as a fundamental right to every citizen and that we all carry tremendous responsibility towards bringing up a healthy generation brought about by the marvels of scientific research.”

So what prompted such an initiative? The genetic information is becoming an essential tool in healthcare and comprehensive genomic data that will be obtained through population studies will help to develop the knowledge base. The population health profiles will be effective for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of major diseases, hence reducing the spread of diseases. The utility of genetic information lies in the fact that it not only helps in the diagnosis of the disease and risk assessment but also plays a vital role in disease management and progression. In the UAE, approximately 4,500 new cases of cancer are reported in a year. As for diabetes there were over one million cases of diabetes in UAE in 2017, that is an approximate average of eight per cent of the population.

The joint initiative of Pure Health and Mohap will help create personal care programmes tailored to the individual situation.

Dr Shakoor Malik, chief scientific officer at Pure Health, said: “Pharmacogenomics is the relationship between a patient’s inherited genetic makeup and their response to pharmaceutical drugs. The study of this individual gene makeup will lead to personalised medicine programme. Targeted sequencing for a specific disease as well as whole genome sequencing will be performed with the help of state-of-the-art technologies. The data will be analysed with the help of genomics data bases as well as expression signatures. This data will reflect the distinct situation of each patient and will lead to personal care programme. This approach will help in the selection of responsive patients for a particular drug and hence avoiding the adverse drug reactions and maximising the drug efficacy.”

Pure Health will create a regional reference laboratory and a genome testing facility that caters to the entire country. “The project is estimated at a budget of Dh200 million and the first phase will be launched within six months. The short-term plan is the launch of the regional reference laboratory, which will include the genetic laboratory setup. In addition to that, we are in the final phases of launching the nationwide national Unified Medical Records platform Riayati, which will further empower the healthcare ecosystem with the valuable population health and disease surveillance data generated,” said Dr Malik.