The PhD study “The EFR Project: a Collaborative Network to Establish an Arabian Bio-bank Resource to Identify Disease Genes of Indigenous Populations“ by UAE national Dr Habiba Sayeed Alsafar at the University of Western Australia has uncovered novel associations between five genes and Type-2 diabetes.
As part of her research, Dr Alsafar, assisted by funding from the Foundation’s PhD Fellowship Programme, established the “EFR Project,” or Emirates Family Registry. This was created as part of a collaborative effort to develop the capabilities of a bio-specimen repository, associated database resources, high-throughput genotyping capabilities and skills in medical bioinformatics for the UAE.
A pilot project accordingly began in 2008 and volunteers from three local hospitals and nine primary care centres were recruited. Through this network, 23,064 volunteers provided the consent to allow their clinical data to be stored in EFR’s database.
This is the first Genome Wide Association Study of the UAE Bedouin population. It has revealed novel genes that cause Type 2 Diabetes in the national Arab population. The strongest associations were found within the PRKD1 gene, which plays an important role in insulin secretion.
The study also identified several gene locations on chromosomes which have not been detected earlier – and which are directly associated with Type 2 Diabetes in the UAE population.
HE Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, the Emirates Foundation’s Managing Director, said that the Foundation was proud to have been able to fund the remarkable scientific achievement accomplished by Dr Alsafar.
“This can only affirm our belief in the creative potential of Emirati young people and the necessity to give them the opportunity to unleash their potential,” he emphasized.
Since its commencement in 2008, the Emirates Foundation’s PhD Scholarship Grant Programme has provided over Dhs7m to enable 14 Emirati students in various fields to attain their PhDs from some of the world’s most prestigious universities.
Dr Alsafar, the second Emirati scholar to complete the programme, said the project took four years. She worked between the UAE, Kuwait, Australia, USA, UK, Canada, Singapore and Germany to receive the required specialized training, to obtain testing samples and conduct necessary experiments.
The project has been presented as a series of six manuscripts and has been published in eminent scientific journals, including the “International Journal of Diabetes and Metabolism” and “Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology.”
Dr Alsafar commented, “The Emirates Foundation’s support for the research element of the PhD has helped to realize a dream – in addition to the help I have been given by other entities such as the Dubai Police General Headquarters and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai.”
As Phase One of the Emirates Family Registry project draws to a close, the collaboration established with regional and international partners will see the expansion of the project to other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
To conduct more genome wide association studies in Arab populations requires a joint effort among Arab institutions. Since there is an assortment of ethnic groups in the region, phase two of this Registry will cover a diverse array of different populations.
Dr Alsafar believes that an understanding of the genetic diversity in the region will provide a deep insight into the mechanisms that cause disease. These developments could lead to better intervention and prevention programmes that improve the quality of life throughout the Arab world.
Monday, July 4- 2011 @ 13:30 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.