Emi­rati genome map­ping may of­fer clues to dis­ease

▶ New re­search aims to iden­tify peo­ple’s sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to con­di­tions such as di­a­betes and heart dis­ease, writes Daniel Bard­s­ley

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - DANIEL BARD­S­LEY

Ground­break­ing UAE re­search has for the first time un­rav­elled the ge­netic make-up of two Emi­ratis.

The study will help to iden­tify peo­ple sus­cep­ti­ble to life-threat­en­ing con­di­tions com­mon in the re­gion, such as di­a­betes and heart dis­ease.

A team of re­searchers used a process known as whole genome se­quenc­ing to carry out the de­tailed anal­y­sis. While other groups and na­tion­al­i­ties have been stud­ied in the past, no Emi­rati ci­ti­zen has been sub­jected to the test­ing un­til now.

“This is an im­por­tant first step – the first pub­lished Emi­rati genome,” said Dr Raghib Ali, a re­searcher do­ing re­lated work at New York Univer­sity Abu Dhabi’s Pub­lic Health Re­search Cen­tre. “It’s only by hav­ing data on tens of thou­sands of in­di­vid­u­als that we’ll be able to un­der­stand how genes in­ter­act with the en­vi­ron­ment.”

The re­search, en­ti­tled “In­tro­duc­ing the first whole genomes of na­tion­als from the United Arab Emi­rates”, was pub­lished this month in the jour­nal Sci­en­tific Re­ports.

The re­port was co-au­thored by a team of specialist­s from UAE uni­ver­si­ties and health cen­tres, in­clud­ing five sci­en­tists from Khal­ifa Univer­sity in Abu Dhabi. By iden­ti­fy­ing the gene types of a par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­ual, whole genome se­quenc­ing pro­vides ge­neti­cists with an in­sight into what dis­eases are most likely to af­fect a par­tic­u­lar pa­tient.

Sci­en­tists in­volved in the study now plan to use the process on more Emi­ratis.

Sci­en­tists have un­rav­elled the ge­netic make-up of two Emi­ratis for the first time.

The ground-break­ing work aims to help iden­tify peo­ple most at risk from life-threat­en­ing con­di­tions such as di­a­betes and heart dis­ease.

The study, car­ried out in the UAE, found that the pair’s ge­netic ma­te­rial showed strong sim­i­lar­i­ties to peo­ple from Cen­tral and South Asia.

Re­searchers used a process known as whole genome se­quenc­ing – which had never been used on Emi­rati cit­i­zens be­fore – to carry out the anal­y­sis.

“The in­for­ma­tion com­piled will [prob­a­bly] lead to the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of tar­get genes that could lead to the de­vel­op­ment of novel ther­a­peu­tic [treat­ments],” the study said.

“[It could lead to] im­prove­ments in the de­liv­ery of pre­ci­sion medicine, qual­ity of life for affected in­di­vid­u­als and a re­duc­tion in health­care costs.”

The new re­search, en­ti­tled “In­tro­duc­ing the first whole genomes of na­tion­als from the United Arab Emi­rates”, was pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­en­tific Re­ports this month.

It was co-writ­ten by a team from UAE uni­ver­si­ties and health cen­tres, in­clud­ing five sci­en­tists from Khal­ifa Univer­sity in Abu Dhabi.

The two Emi­rati case stud­ies, a man and a woman both aged 87, were prob­a­bly cho­sen for their pre-ex­ist­ing med­i­cal con­di­tions.

The man, code-named UAE S001 by re­searchers, suf­fered from high blood pres­sure, di­a­betes and the skin con­di­tion pso­ri­a­sis. The woman, code-named UAE S002, also suf­fered from high blood pres­sure.

Sci­en­tists be­hind the study now plan to carry out the WGS process on more Emi­ratis.

“This is an im­por­tant first step – the first pub­lished Emi­rati genome,” said Dr Raghib Ali, a re­searcher do­ing re­lated work at New York Univer­sity

Abu Dhabi’s Pub­lic Health Re­search Cen­tre.

“It’s only by hav­ing data on tens of thou­sands that we’ll be able to un­der­stand how genes in­ter­act with the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Other re­searchers also re­gard the new work as a major step for­ward.

“Do­ing it on one or two [peo­ple] means you have the ca­pa­bil­ity, the pipe­line set up to do it,” said Sarah En­nis, a pro­fes­sor of ge­nomics at the Univer­sity of Southamp­ton in the UK.

“If you can do it on one or two, you could do it on 10 or 20 or 1,000 or 2,000.”

By high­light­ing the gene types of a par­tic­u­lar per­son, WGS of­fers ge­neti­cists an in­sight into what dis­eases the pa­tient is most likely to be sus­cep­ti­ble to. For ex­am­ple, UAE S001 was found to have genes mak­ing him more likely to de­velop di­a­betes.

Us­ing this in­for­ma­tion, doc­tors can then tai­lor spe­cific drug treat­ment to the pa­tient’s re­quire­ments, some­thing known as “pre­ci­sion medicine”.

“Not all pa­tients re­spond to drugs in the same way,” Dr Ali said. “Un­der­stand­ing how they will re­act with par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­u­als based on ge­netic make-up will be help­ful.

“For risk pro­fil­ing and treat­ment, it’s im­por­tant.”

Dr Ali said he was help­ing to co-or­di­nate the UAE Healthy Fu­ture Study, which aims to an­a­lyse the ge­netic ma­te­rial of thou­sands of Emi­ratis.

The project has al­ready re­cruited 7,000 of its pro­jected to­tal of 20,000 par­tic­i­pants and hopes, over the long term, to track their med­i­cal sta­tus and help to un­cover fac­tors caus­ing ill­nesses.

Start­ing this year, the study will carry out more ba­sic ge­netic tests on all par­tic­i­pants, while WGS will be car­ried out on se­lected peo­ple from next year.

Dr Ali said this would pro­vide data in­di­cat­ing how genes con­trib­ute to obe­sity, di­a­betes, heart dis­ease and, even­tu­ally, cancer in the Emi­rati pop­u­la­tion.

Obe­sity – a risk fac­tor for di­a­betes – is about as preva­lent among Emi­ratis as it is among Amer­i­cans, yet di­a­betes is twice as com­mon among UAE cit­i­zens.

“It sug­gests the Emi­rati pop­u­la­tion is ge­net­i­cally more sus­cep­ti­ble to di­a­betes,” Dr Ali said.

“Through geno­typ­ing [ge­netic anal­y­sis] and se­quenc­ing a large pop­u­la­tion in the Emi­rates, we’ll be able to un­der­stand how ge­netic sus­cep­ti­bil­ity con­trib­utes to di­a­betes and other non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases.”

Dr Ali said that life­style fac­tors were the most im­por­tant in pre­vent­ing di­a­betes, but un­der­stand­ing its ge­netic ba­sis would also help.

He also ar­gued it was vi­tal that more ge­netic anal­y­sis was car­ried out on peo­ple from the Gulf re­gion be­cause there was a lack of data for the Mid­dle East on the links be­tween genes and dis­ease.

“Once peo­ple know they’re at in­creased risk [of di­a­betes], they’re more likely to change their be­hav­iour,” he said.

Us­ing this in­for­ma­tion, doc­tors can tai­lor spe­cific drug treat­ment to the pa­tient

Getty

Sci­en­tists plan to an­a­lyse the genes of more Emi­ratis to un­cover fac­tors be­hind cer­tain ill­nesses

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