Posted on October 13, 2015

Sidra Medical and Research Center (Sidra) announced today that Dr. John Heath, Section Head of Neuro-Oncology and Dr. Sergio Rutella, Executive Director of the Clinical Research Center, have both received cancer research grants from Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF). The three-year grants are worth US$800,000 each. Dr. Heath will be conducting research into genetic predispositions to childhood cancer in the Qatari and GCC population. Dr. Rutella will investigate the use of immunotherapy to fight blood cancers focusing on patients in Qatar and the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. Both programs are scheduled to start in January 2016.

“We are grateful to QNRF for recognizing the importance of both the programs and giving Drs. Heath and Rutella the opportunity to start groundbreaking research. We take immense pride in the quality and depth of our research programs and the fact they have a national and global relevance. We are committed to supporting Qatar’s national health and research strategies as well as the national cancer strategy by paving the way for research initiatives that will enable early risk identification and better treatment methodologies for cancer patients,” said Dr. Francesco Marincola, Chief Research Officer at Sidra Medical and Research Center. “By coordinating and hosting the programs in Qatar and taking a comparative approach with other countries, we are establishing programs that put Qatar at the forefront of international cancer research.

The two programs will feature Sidra led teams collaborating with researchers and clinicians from Qatar and across the world including Germany, Italy, Pakistan and the USA.  Using comparative data with other countries will improve overall knowledge of genetic risks in the case of Dr. Heath’s research; while Dr. Rutella’s program will help establish a clinical and research network for immunotherapy treatment of acute childhood leukemia.

Commenting on the grants, Dr. Abdul Sattar Al-Taie, Executive of Qatar National Research Fund said, “Our selection of both the Sidra programs underlies our mission to support initiatives that will develop Qatar into a hub for research excellence and align with the Qatar National Research Strategy. QNRF is a big supporter of medical and scientific research particularly those that will lay the foundation to equip Qatar with the resources, technologies and programs to offer internationally respected healthcare and cancer services. We wish both recipients every success in their research endeavors and are confident of their progress in the field of pediatric cancer research.”

Qatar Airways DC

Research Grant 1: Molecular Epidemiology of Childhood Cancer in Qatar

Dr. John Heath is the Section head of Neuro-Oncology in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Sidra. Dr. Heath’s research will focus on studying the extended families of childhood cancer cases in conjunction with Qatar’s genome sequencing project. This will allow comparisons between families affected by childhood cancer and healthy Qataris, thereby helping identify high risk genes associated with childhood cancer and working towards faster and better treatment methodologies.

Dr. Heath is joined by a team of Sidra researchers including Professor Ena Wang, Division Chief of Translational Medicine; Dr. Wei Lu, Principal Investigator, Translational Medicine and Dr. Andre Ptitsyn, Principal Scientist, Bioinformatics Core. The team aims to get access to local based patients and their families who have experienced childhood cancers. They will also be comparing data findings from Qatar and the GCC with data on western populations collected by the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah in the U.S.

Research Grant 2: Microenvironmental targets for restoring anti-tumor immunity in childhood acute leukemia

Dr. Sergio Rutella is the Executive Director of the Clinical Research Center within Sidra’s Research Division. The focus of Dr. Rutella’s research program is to identify innovative mechanisms responsible for suppressing the immune system in acute leukemia to help identify and develop effective immunotherapy treatments for patients. By furthering the team’s understanding of cancer biology, any knowledge and insights gained will further help develop leukemia immunotherapy treatments that can improve and prolong survival in patients.

Dr. Rutella’s team from Sidra includes Dr. Ena Wang, Division Chief of Translational Medicine; Dr. Damien Chaussabel, Program Director of Systems Biology; Dr. Wei Lu, Principal Investigator and Dr. Davide Bedognetti, Director of Tumor Biology Immunology and Therapy along with Dr. Asim Belgaumi, Division Chief of Pediatric Hematology.  The team will be working closely with international academic institutions including Aga Khan University in Pakistan, Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany and the Catholic University Medical School of Rome in Italy.