Posted on March 31, 2019

Someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds. According to the World Health Organization, this means there are 9.9 million new cases of dementia worldwide each year. This neurodegenerative disorder usually affects people over the age of 65 and causes indescribable mental, physical, and financial stress on patients and their families, as well as the economies of their countries.

The need to accelerate research aimed at finding a cure for dementia has become as big a priority as battling diseases such as cancer or diabetes. In this regard, Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University – a Qatar Foundation (QF) member – is leading the region in accelerating research in dementia. QBRI is working with Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q), a Qatar Foundation partner university and Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), in a study to identify dementia amongst Qatar’s population. This partnership will enhance the country’s national strategy against dementia and accelerate research into the disease.

Since its establishment in 2012, QBRI ­has evolved into an internationally recognized research facility. Its dedicated Neurological Disorders Research Center is unique to the region and  explores brain-related disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, and epilepsy, through national and international collaborations. Dr. Omar El-Agnaf, Executive Director, QBRI, emphasized the need to increase public awareness and research dedicated to finding breakthroughs for dementia. “We adopt a holistic approach to research into dementia, because the link between neurological disorders in the elderly and other medical conditions is well documented,” he said. “For instance, patients with type 2 diabetes are three-to-four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.”

“In addition, it has been reported that 50 per cent of patients with type 2 diabetes will develop dementia. This means we cannot tackle one disease without tackling the other. Our study in collaboration with HMC & WCM-Q, will help us to better understand the clinical background, family history, and environmental and lifestyle factors related to dementia and type 2 diabetes.” “As we have approached this study in a systematic manner, and are investing a considerable amount of resources and manpower, we’re confident that it will lead to important results.”

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Professor Rayaz A Malik, Professor of Medicine at WCM-Q and consultant physician at HMC, highlighted the importance of collaboration between different institutes in Qatar. “We currently have an ongoing clinical and translational study with my team here in WCM-Q, HMC and QBRI. We have enrolled cohorts of patients with dementia, who have undergone detailed detailed clinical assessment and collection of blood samples. We will search for disease markers in patients with and without type 2 diabetes who are at risk of developing dementia,” says Malik. “Additionally, we have pioneered a novel ophthalmic imaging test, called cornea confocal microscopy, that can reveal nerve damage in patients with dementia.”

The steps that are being taken by QBRI will help decision-makers formulate clear strategies to fight dementia and set up specialized centers dedicated to providing support to dementia patients in the country. At present, neither Qatar nor the region have specialized clinical centers or support groups exclusively for patients affected by dementia, and their families. Dr. Hanadi Khamis Al Hamad, Chairperson of Geriatrics and Long Term Care Department, at HMC, remarked that health concerns that are common to all, can be addressed only if national entities work together.

“Ageing is a natural process that brings its own concerns such as dementia. Our aim is to improve the lifestyle of the elderly, by minimizing the probability of age-related afflictions such as dementia. The research we are currently conducting alongside WCM-Q and QBRI will help address this issue that is common to every country in the world,” says Dr. Al Hamad. “And, the results we obtain will eventually guide policy-makers to plan and implement strategies to fight dementia in Qatar and the region.”

While there is increasing evidence that a healthy lifestyle and diet are the key to delaying, and even preventing, neurological diseases such as dementia, Dr. El-Agnaf emphasizes that in order for researchers to successfully combat the disease, research institutes like QBRI must work with the public to increase awareness about the disease – and the research that aims to beat it. “QBRI is not confined to a lab, working isolated from the realities of the world,” he said. “Our research in dementia is not about citations or awards or research papers. “Our responsibility lies in helping the people of Qatar, who need to know that the work we do is entirely for their future, and for their benefit.”

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