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