Khalifa University and Sandooq Al Watan Collaborate on Biotechnology Project to Study Genetic Predisposition to Cancer in UAE

March 4, 2019

Khalifa University of Science and Technology, a research university dedicated to the advancement of learning through discovery and application of knowledge, and Sandooq Al Watan, the private sector initiative to boost the UAE’s social development, today announced they will collaborate on a project to study genetic predisposition to cancer in the UAE, thus saving lives, healthcare costs and benefiting organ transplants.

To be undertaken by the Khalifa University’s Center for Biotechnology (BTC), the project will study the DNA profiles of Emirati patients in an attempt to identify genetic markers relevant to the local population that will assist in the diagnosis and classification of cancers. An understanding of the genetic makeup of an Emirati patient will also provide an opportunity to customize therapeutic regimes to improve the treatment and management of disease. Sandooq Al Watan will sponsor this project through its platform that has supported 44 Emiratis through 16 projects so far across the UAE.

Dr. Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, Executive Vice-President, Khalifa University of Science and Technology, said: “Our collaboration with Sandooq Al Watan not only reflects our commitment to continue with advanced research but also discovery in areas that are relevant to the UAE and the region. As a research-intensive academic institution, Khalifa University prides itself in contributing to every segment of the UAE’s economic and social sectors including healthcare through scientific discoveries. We believe this research collaboration will benefit individuals who require chronic care as well as help governments prune healthcare outlays, which can be utilized for developmental purposes.”

Mohamed Taj Aldeen Al Qadi, Director General of Sandooq Al Watan, said: “We are keenly aware of the data bias in current DNA studies where people from Arab ancestries are underrepresented. This has caused genetic tests to be less relevant and less accurate in this region of the world. Our collaboration with Khalifa University will address this problem head on, leading to more accurate tests that can save lives and reduce billions in costs. It will also promote research in the UAE and position the country as an important creator of knowledge and technologies. We are very excited to kick this project off with such an esteemed organization and a great research team.

The project is led by Dr Habiba Al Safar, Director, Khalifa University Center for Biotechnology (BTC) and Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Dr. Guan Tay, Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering, Khalifa University, who have the resources and expertise in genome research. The project outcome will be in line with the UAE’s national agenda which mandates the development of training opportunities, underpinned by high quality research to fuel a diversified knowledge-based economy. It will also contribute towards the nation’s vision of establishing world-class medical services to cater to the UAE’s future healthcare requirements.

More importantly, the project will offer training opportunities in cutting-edge genome science as well as biological computing, incorporating artificial intelligence and big data analysis at the postgraduate as well as undergraduate levels to Khalifa University students. The research team recently welcomed PhD candidate Halima Al Naqbi, who completed her Master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh. Master’s students, internships, as well as research positions are available through this Sandooq Al Watan-Khalifa University collaboration, providing opportunities to expand the pool of local experts in the field of genetics and personalized medicine.

Cancer remains one of the top challenges in medical practice because it remains a leading cause of mortality and morbidity worldwide. In addition, there are myriad different cancer types that continue to represent substantial economic and personal burden. The disease has a strong genetic component; however, the genomic factors that result in cancer susceptibility in the UAE remain largely unknown. This study is expected to yield discoveries that could lead to improvements in quality of life for cancer patients and potential reductions in healthcare costs.

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