More Arab genetic studies needed to treat cancer in UAE
Dubai - The UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda aims to reduce cancer-related deaths in the country.
Experts have said there is a need to advance genetic and disease research in the Arab world in order to provide targeted gene therapies for certain cancers afflicting UAE citizens.
Targeted therapies - also known as precision medicine - are medical treaments that are tailored to the individual characteristics of each patient. It is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account variabilities in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person.
For cancer treatments, for example, a physician can order a genetic testing and choose the most effective chemotherapy based on the mutation or biomarker identified.
"It is well recognised that Middle Eastern populations are underrepresented in disease research and, to date, there is no research to indicate the impact of precision medicine in the UAE," said Dr Sara Sorrell, consultant for family medicine, Intercare Health Centre, Abu Dhabi.
"But I think this is still premature as we don't even have enough data on the general population genetics on this part of the world, so this is really the first step," she said.
"For instance, if a mutation - different from those found in European populations - is found to cause a particular cancer here, this may present a novel target for new cancer therapies for local populations. Or, if a new drug comes in the market, what's the effect on the local population? Therefore, advancing genetic and disease research in the UAE and the Arab world is very important," said Dr Sorrell.
"For this to occur, there needs to be both a focus on funding research as well as formulating policies around research and healthcare innovation to protect patients, scientists and physicians," she added.
The UAE Vision 2021 National Agenda aims to reduce cancer-related deaths in the country, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating 25.6 deaths per 100,000 population in the UAE in 2017.
The government regularly launches national awareness and preventative campaigns such as 'Itmenan', which involves the 'Universal Periodic Examination' and 'Early Detection of Cancer' initiatives adopted by the Council of Ministers.
According to the WHO, while 70 per cent of deaths from cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries, only one in five low- and middle-income countries have the necessary data to drive cancer policy.
"There is an intense interest in precision medicine. The region's laboratories are now actively expanding their test menus for more personalised diagnostic services," said Rejoy Penacerrada, conference director of the upcoming Medlab Congress, which will discuss precision medicine.
Humaid Al Qattami, director-general of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said: "We can already see the emergence of precision medicine and personalised care, especially as technology, such as genetic testing, becomes cheaper."
Recently, the DHA signed an agreement with The Council of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research to support cancer research and treatment in Dubai using precision medicine.