Biobank Qatar, the cornerstone of biomedical research in the country, will recruit in its pilot phase nearly 20,000 participants over three years, rising over six years to become the largest cohort of its type in the Middle East.
“It will allow us to build up our knowledge of the Arab genotype which is little understood now,” Biobank Qatar chair and Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) managing director Dr Hanan al-Kuwari said yesterday.
Biobank Qatar, which has been three years in development, is a long-term project, built on strategic partnerships, and meant to make a long-term investment in Qatari development, she explained at an international symposium to introduce the new initiative of Qatar Foundation (QF).
Pointing out that biobanks are repositories of biological information, Dr al-Kuwari observed that in the words of QF chairperson HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, they are “a library” of resources.
Biobanks clinically assess donors and collect human biosamples of a variety of types, for example blood and tissue, and store them in specialised laboratory facilities.
They couple the biosamples with detailed information about the donors such as their health status, disease(s), treatment and outcome.
Scientists can use the bank of samples to understand the causes of major diseases, how to predict and even prevent those diseases occurring, and to develop new treatments to cure those diseases when they do occur.
Biosamples provide a rich resource for researchers when coupled with personal data about health status, but donors remain anonymous to the researchers.
Biobank Qatar will be well placed to provide researchers with data on the factors that predispose the population of Qatar and other GCC countries to certain diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
It will support the discovery and development of new technologies, medicines and interventions to improve healthcare in Qatar and other countries.
The world-class facility, following the highest ethical and scientific standards, will be governed by QF, working closely with the Supreme Council for Health and HMC, and supported by leading experts in population health studies from Imperial College London.
“There are some unique challenges to developing biomedical research in Qatar but they are more than outweighed by the opportunities,” Dr al-Kuwari stated.
The relatively small population of about 1.6mn can actually be an advantage as it allows national co-ordination of population cohorts in a way that would not be possible in a larger, more diffuse country.
“So we can see how a small country like Iceland has been able to make great advances in biobanking because of its ability to co-ordinate a population-wide cohort,” she pointed out.
Given the extremely diverse population, including Qataris, others from GCC countries, and many migrant workers from East and West, Qatar suffers from what is termed a double burden of disease.
There are diseases most commonly associated with the developing world (communicable diseases), as well as diseases associated with modern lifestyles in developed countries (diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and hyerpertension).
“That is a challenge but also a great opportunity for comparative studies that can help us better understand and tackle those diseases that place the greatest burden on our people,” Dr al-Kuwari said.
Though Qatar or the Arab world have had relatively little biomedical research historically, now Qatar has a strong long-term vision and ambition, a wealth of natural resources and the ability to invest and great scope to grow the research base.
“So, we can aim to lead the Arab world in biomedical research, and indeed to become one of the global leaders in time. Biomedical research has a bright future in Qatar,” she added.
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