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Arab Genomic Studies
Gene database 'essential' to fight diseases
14 Mar 2010

The Arab world has the highest incidence of genetic diseases and compiling a genetic database is essential for preventing such disorders, a senior scientist said yesterday.

There are many reasons for the genetic disorders in the region, among them marriages between close relatives, noted Dr Mahmoud Taleb Al Ali, chairperson of the scientific committee of a pan-Arab human genetics conference.

Dr Al Ali told Gulf News there was no solid data to aid medical intervention in cases of genetic disease, albeit information is now being gathered across the GCC states.

"The work is almost complete," Dr Al Ali said, referring to the database, which will include the number of people and the types of disorders. The most common genetic disorders seen in the region are thalassaemia, sickle cell disease, G6PD deficiency, chromosomal deficiency and Down's Syndrome.

According to the UAE Genetic Diseases Association, thalassaemia occurs in one in 12 Emiratis, one in 20 Asians, and one in 50 Afro-Caribbeans. In northern parts of India and West Pakistan, its frequency is as high as one in six. Thalassaemia patients with severe anaemia require regular monthly blood transfusion.

Some of the world's highest frequencies of sickle cell disease are seen in Saudi Arabia (5.2 per cent), Oman (3.8 per cent) and UAE (1.9 per cent).

Dr Al Ali said lack of awareness is another reason for the spread of the diseases. Campaigns conducted earlier had not been very scientific in their approach, he observed.

After the GCC database project is completed, the Dubai-based Centre for Arab Genomic Studies will extend research to include the entire Arab World, he said.

"It is a momentous task, but we have undertaken it." The Centre is a division of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences.

Dr Al Ali told participants that the centre was considering plans to host a human genome meeting in an Arab country next year.