In a joint project between Qatar Foundation, Hamad Medical Corporation, Qatar, and the Imperial College of London, Qatar announced its plans to launch and host the first gene bank in the Arab world.
The project, named Biobank Qatar, is scheduled to open its doors within a year to collect blood or tissue samples from volunteer donors. These will be used for research for common diseases in Qatar, such as diabetes and heart diseases.
The new gene bank aims to collect 20,000 samples from Qatari and Arab volunteers within the first 10 years. The research could lead to the development of new drugs that may be more efficient for this group in particular. It can also help in the development of the Arab genome further.
According to the Qatari daily newspaper The Peninsula, the team behind Biobank are taking issues of genetic privacy seriously, ensuring consent on behalf of the donors and putting in place a system to withdraw samples at any time if they so decide.
“We will focus on taking detailed pictures of diseases in the Arab community, taking into consideration that the genes of Arab citizens differ from the genes of Westerners,” said Hanan al-Kuwari, board chairman of the bank and the director of Hamad Medical Corporation.
According to a 1999 survey, 15% of Qataris have diabetes and an additional 11% have impaired glucose tolerance. Diabetes treatment alone accounts for 10% of Qatar’s huge healthcare expenditure.
Genetic research is an important field to focus on to usher in an age of personalized medicine, Fathy Saoud, president of Qatar Foundation, told the website Al-Shorfa. Collecting genetic data from the community will “allow researchers to tackle diseases on an individual basis, and not just predict the diseases,” he added.