Posted on March 07, 2017

Personalized medicine, an emerging branch of biomedical science, has started to gain traction across the globe, transforming the way medical researchers and practitioners treat prevalent diseases.

By studying the lifestyle and genetic profile of a population, researchers and healthcare providers are now entering an advanced medical era that is better able to understand, prevent and treat curable diseases. By analyzing a patient’s genetic makeup and their medical history and lifestyle, medical researchers and doctors can tailor treatment plans that consider all these variables to increase the chances of successful treatment and recovery.

In recent years, a number of countries, including Qatar, have set up large-scale biobanks to better understand the causes of major diseases that affect their populations and advance the provision of personalized medicine. When Qatar Biobank was established in 2012, it signaled a turning point for biomedical research in Qatar. Prior to its launch, there was a lack of available data on the medical history of local populations in the region; the bulk of the existing research concerned Western populations. The depth and breadth of knowledge and medical data collected by Qatar Biobank is helping to build an invaluable platform for healthcare experts to undertake high-quality biomedical research.

Dr. Nahla Afifi, Scientific and Education Manager and Acting Director of Qatar Biobank, said: “The knowledge gained from our research will help healthcare professionals in Qatar develop better prevention methods and personalized treatments compatible with each individual’s genomic coding. Equipped with biomedical information, it will be possible to develop better prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the serious illnesses that affect Qatar’s population.” At present, a host of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, are prevalent among local and regional populations, creating a critical need for medical research to help prevent and improve treatment for local communities.

Advancements in the study of common diseases, and increasingly innovative approaches to treatment in Qatar, not only improve outcomes, but also mean patients will no longer have to travel abroad to seek specialized care. Qatar Genome Programme, which is incubated under Qatar Biobank, is also leading the development of personalized medicine by sequencing genomic data from the local population to identify genotype and phenotype associations that impact health. The pilot phase has seen 3,000 samples sequenced.

Dr. Said Ismail, Manager of Qatar Genome Programme, said: “By mapping the genome of the local population, we can help create a healthcare system in Qatar that addresses medical issues at an individual level. This will mean treatment options tailored specifically for each patient’s genomic profile, increasing effectiveness and leading to better results.” Qatar Genome Programme, in partnership with the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), also offers an annual grant, ‘Pathway Towards Personalized Medicine’, which supports researchers in genomics and genetics working at research facilities in Qatar.

The Qatari population has its own vital role to play in this medical revolution. Qataris over the age of 18, along with residents who have been living in Qatar for more than 15 years, can volunteer their biomedical data. A visit to the Qatar Biobank includes standard medical tests such as blood pressure and lung function. However, the tests carried out by Qatar Biobank also include new screenings that are not included in other large-scale biobanks, including advanced imaging techniques to measure whole-body composition and the health of carotid arteries, as well as a treadmill test to measure physical fitness.

The number of samples and tests collected by Qatar Biobank make it a unique biomedical resource which is on its way to facilitating groundbreaking discoveries that will help foster a healthier population aware of the risks associated with prevalent diseases. The upcoming Qatar Biobank Conference, to be held under the theme ‘The Impact of Biobanking on Precision Medicine Initiatives’ at the Qatar National Convention Centre from March 14 – 15, will serve to advance personalized medicine in Qatar by providing leading medical experts with the opportunity to discuss biomedical research and personalized medicine in the context of Qatar and the region.

By providing a crucial platform to assess the current biomedical landscape, and working in collaboration with the local population, Qatar Biobank, a member of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), is working to aid extensive research that will arm researchers with crucial medical insights needed to safeguard the future of the Qatari population.