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News & Press Release - 2013
Arab Genomic Studies
Al Khaja opens the 5TH Pan Arab Human Genetics Conference
17 Nov 2013
On behalf of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid AL Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, UAE Minister of Finance, President of Dubai Health Authority and Patron of Hamdan Medical Award (HMA), Prof. Najib al Khaja, Secretary General of HMA and President of the Center for Arab Genomic Studies (CAGS) opened the activities of the 5th Pan Arab Human Genetics Conference and Golden Helix Symposium 2013. The 3-days conferences are organized by the award’s CAGS in cooperation with Golden Helix Foundation at AL Bustan Rotana hotel, Dubai.
The opening ceremony was attended by Dr. Ahmed Al Hashimi, a member of the board of trustees of HMA, Prof. Sehamuddin Galadari, chairman of the award’s Research Support Committee and Mr. Abdullah  bin Souqat, Executive Director of HMA, with the participation of around 600 doctors and geneticists from more than 15 countries including the United States of America, China, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Tunisia.
After listening to the recitation of the holy Quran, Prof. Najib Al Khaja delivered his speech in which he said: “The Centre for Arab Genomic Studies, the organizer of this conference, is one of the most important centers of Sheikh Hamdan Award for Medical Sciences, and is now well established globally in the field of human genetics. The Centre managed to attain this high position in less than a decade, which is a relatively short period of time. During which the Centre was able to make a significant difference in the context of human genetics in the Arab world”.
“In these years, the Centre offered a unique global model through launching a comprehensive database for genetic disorders in Arabs. This database harbours the latest updates about genetic research in Arab populations.  In addition, the Centre is currently working on linking this database to a number of important international genetic and medical databases”, Al Khaja added.
“The United Arab Emirates, based on the directives of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan -may God protect him- and his brother His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, and their brethren Their Highnesses the Supreme Council Members and Rulers of the Emirates, is keen on working towards improving our societies in all walks of life and contribute effectively to their growth and development”, he said.
“The Fifth Pan Arab Human Genetics Conference, which we are here to open today, is a reflection of this interest and the result of cooperation with the largest international scientific institutions and of the concept of collective work among the Arab geneticists”, Al Khaja added.
“The theme of the conference, Genomics Into Healthcare, is an evidence of the importance of the subject that will be discussed. It puts basic scientific research in a practical context by showcasing valuable research that give us hope for finding new treatments for genetic diseases, and inventing novel diagnostics that can ease the burden of these diseases on individuals, families and societies”, he added.
In the end of his speech, Al Khaja thanked Dr. George Patrinos, the President of Golden Helix and the organization’s members, and the scientific and organizing committees of the conference.
Also, Dr. George Patrinos, Scientific Director of Golden Helix foundation delivered a speech. He said: “On behalf of the Board of Directors and the International Scientific Advisory Council of the Golden Helix Foundation, I am very pleased to welcome you to the magical city of Dubai for the joint 5th Pan Arab Human Genetics Conference and the 2013 Golden Helix Symposium under the theme “Genomics into Healthcare”.
“The Golden Helix Foundation is an international non-profit research organization, registered as a UK-based charity, which aims to advance multi-disciplinary research and education in the sphere of genomic medicine. The Golden Helix Foundation promotes the development of research and the transfer and communication of knowledge from researchers and scientists in the wider scientific community through collaborative projects and conferences in the fields of pharmacogenomics and genomic medicine”, Dr. Patrinos said.
“Genomic medicine is expected to play a pivotal role in future medical practice. Recognizing the challenges that are emerging from the recent advances in genomics and their impact on human health, the Golden Helix Foundation has organized, since 2008, the Golden Helix Symposia, which are international high-profile scientific meetings in the field of genomic medicine”, he said.
“This year, the Scientific Advisory Council of the Golden Helix Foundation decided to jointly organize the 2013 Golden Helix Symposium together with the 5th Pan Arab Human Genetics Conference, the most prestigious scientific conference on human genetics in the Arab world, which is organized on a biennial basis from the Center for Arab Genomic Studies. This joint conference features lectures by several world renowned scientists and covers all aspects of genomic medicine, including recent developments in deciphering the human genome, the genomics of rare disorders, pharmacogenomics, next-generation sequencing, cancer genomics, population genomics, and of course the requirements to bring genomics in the clinic”, he added.
“Above all, this joint conference is the result of a fruitful collaboration between scientists from the Center for Arab Genomic Studies and the Golden Helix Foundation and, most importantly, the generous support from H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences”, he said.
Then, Dr. Mahmoud Talib Al Ali, Director of CAGS and chairperson of the scientific committee of the conference delivered a speech in which he talked about the achievements of CAGS in 10 years. He spoke about the establishment of CAGS by H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 2003 with the aim of decreasing the rates of genetic disorders in the Arab region which is bigger than the rates in the other countries.
He mentioned to the goals of the CAGS including establishing its CTGA, raising the awareness of people towards genetic disorders and supporting the cooperation between CAGS and the other research and academic organization locally, regionally and internationally.
He also talked about the future plan of CAGS including working on applying the genetic research in the preventive, diagnostic and treatment systems within the Arab region. 
Then, Prof. Najib Al Khaja opened the accompanied exhibition in which 8 companies participate to present the latest technology in that field of science.
Concerning the scientific program of the conference, it is very important, as the participants will earn 11 and half CME credit hours. A keynote speech by David N Cooper, Professor of Human Molecular Genetics at Cardiff University, UK, was presented. Prof. Cooper talked about a special phenomenon in genetics called ‘phenotypic penetrance’ that plays a major role in influencing the manifestation of genetic disorders.  His talk demonstrated that reduced penetrance is a wide-spread phenomenon, and will explore some of the molecular mechanisms that will help to explain it. 
The 1st Session of the conference entitled “Cancer Genomics and Epigenetics” was held. It focused on the hereditary factors, both within and outside the genome, that influence cancer.  The characteristics of breast cancer among Arab women are very different from those in Western countries.  Part of this difference is likely to be due to genetic factors.  
Prof. Lotfi Chouchane talked about the results of some of his work on breast cancer genes in Arab populations.  Semaphorins are a group of secretory molecules that have recently been shown to play a role in disease progression in solid tumors. 
Dr. Muhammad Malik talked about one such semaphorin, sema3C, and the encouraging results of his work in targeting this molecule to arrest breast cancer progression.  Genomic imprinting is a phenomenon whereby a gene from only one of the parents is expressed, while the other is silenced.  Dr. Ismail Alhwij presented the results of his study on identifying the profile of imprinted genes involved in the pathogenesis of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. 
During the 2nd session entitled “Genomic and Epigenomic Studies”, a lecture by Prof. Ahmad Al Marzouqi was presented in which he talked about the laboratory in the UAE University (Al Ain) focuses on understanding how certain proteins can regulate gene expression by modifying the structure of chromatin.  The study of these proteins is important, since these chromatin modifiers have been implicated in the initiation of various diseases in humans.  Prof. Marzouqi’s lecture introduced three new chromatin remodelers that have been identified by his team; Fun30, Irc5, and Irc20. 
Brugada Syndrome is a potentially life-threatening genetically heterogeneous disorder involving the cardiac rhythm.  Prof. Maurizio Ferrari has used next generation sequencing technologies to identify new candidate genes involved in the pathogenesis of this disease.  In his talk, he presented the results of this work, specifically the identification of variants that could prove to be important for improving risk stratification and clinical management of asymptomatic patients.
The 3rd Session entitled “Genomics of Blood and Metabolic Disorders” included talks on the genetics of inherited disorders of the blood and metabolic functions.  In the UAE, prenatal diagnosis of inherited blood disorders has been made available since 2005. 
Dr. Erol Baysal from the Dubai Health Authority highlighted the use of chorionic villus sampling and the latest in DNA-based diagnostics and how the accurate detection and counseling of at-risk couples is helping to reduce the mortality and morbidity from beta-thalassemia.  
Dr. Walid Dridi and his team have utilized next generation sequencing technologies to investigate a large four-generation Saudi Arabian family affected with an inherited bleeding disorder called thrombocytopenia.  Their studies have identified undiscovered mutations in the ANKRD26 gene in the affected members in this family.  Dr. Dridi presented the results of his study.  Prof. Karsten Suhre identified a series of genetically influenced metabolic profiles, which are strongly defined by the relationship between genetics and environment.  Gene expression is controlled by a series of factors, including transcriptional and epigenetic programming. 
Prof. Douglas Higgs has done pioneering work in understanding the role of these programmes in guiding the differentiation of progenitor blood cells.  In his lecture, Prof. Higgs talked about the sequence of events that alter the structure and function of the chromatin and that result in the expression of the alpha globin gene cluster. 
At the end of the scientific program of the 1st day of the conference, a workshop around the project RD-Connect was held, a global endeavor to link up databases, registries and biobanks related to research on rare diseases.