Covid-19: How UAE researchers are now detecting virus variants

Dubai - Genomics facility in the UAE is assisting the country in detecting the variants of Covid-19.


Saman Haziq

Published: Thu 24 Jun 2021, 7:07 PM

Last updated: Thu 24 Jun 2021, 8:39 PM

With the Covid-19 variants wrecking havoc across the globe, UAE reseachers are working to detect new variants so that the country can be prepared and take timely action.

And leading the UAE’s battle in this area is the Omics Centre of Excellence, that houses the crucial research project – Emirati Genome Project - which is working on detecting these variants, a senior researcher at the facility told Khaleej Times.

Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of Arab Health 2021, Dr. Walid Zaher, chief research officer at G42 Healthcare, said: “The Omics centre does genomics of everything – plants, animals, humans, and now even viruses.

The region’s largest and most technologically advanced genomics facility in the UAE is assisting the country in detecting the variants of Covid-19 that are fuelling concern worldwide. Whenever someone is diagnosed Covid-19 positive, we can now tell from the full genome sequence of the virus, whether it is alpha, beta or delta variants, or maybe if it is the Wuhan virus or novel virus.”

In order to be able to process all the wealth of data that comes out of genomics, we need not only highly-advanced artificial intelligence, but also supercomputer solutions that G42 possesses. The Omics centre, he said, harbours cutting-edge technologies and can look at a body’s RNA (macro molecules present in cells); can also diagnose genomics of viruses which is helping in the diagnosis of variants of Covid-19,” he said.

He added that it takes about 7-10 days to identify the variants of the virus from extraction of sample, to full sequencing and bioinformatics of it.

UAE’s first clinical research company

Dr Zaher also revealed that the UAE has also launched its first clinical research organisation that will tackle all clinical trials and data generation within the country.

He said that in order to boost scope for research in the UAE, Abu Dhabi-based technology company G42 set up the Inside the Research Organization and Services company (Iros).

“In order to expand research in the UAE, we have recently established the Inside the Research Organisation and Services (Iros), a subsidiary of G42. This is the first UAE-based Emirati clinical research organisation that will tackle all clinical trials and beyond; data generation within the UAE – something we did not have before,” he elaborated.

Talking about the importance of the Omics Centre of Excellence, Dr Zaher said: “In order to enable the genomic programme, where we want to seek genomes of millions of people, we have to have an infrastructure to support that, an arsenal of cutting-edge technologies were needed, and this is when the Omics Centre of Excellence came into existence. This is the largest and most prestigious centre of its kind in the Middle East.”

Emirati Genome Project is in phase 1

The UAE, he said, introduced the Emirati genome project to be able to prevent, predict, protect and personalise health treatment. “By simply looking at the genes we can now predict some of the diseases, and hopefully, even cure them before they even start. This is the theory of genomics, and this is how personalised medicine in being enabled in the UAE,” he said.

Dr Zaher added that for now the Emirati genome project, that targets only Emiratis in the UAE, is the first phase of the genomics project. However, he said they will hopefully expand the project to cover other nationalities in the future.


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