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UAE’s first gene testing lab soon in Abu Dhabi

starmousigningThe genetic testing for breast cancer made famous by Oscar winning Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie would now be locally available for UAE residents, thanks to the first genome testing lab set to open in Abu Dhabi.

Angelina Jolie had rocked the Internet and the medical community earlier this year with a disclosure through New York Times that that she had tested positive for a faulty BRCA1 gene carrying risk of cancer and decided to undergo a preventive surgery to reduce the risk. The procedure reportedly reduced her personal risks of breast cancer from 87 percent to less than 5 percent.

If anybody in the UAE and region had to check for BRCA gene mutations carrying the risk of cancer, samples had to be collected and sent abroad, which involved delays of weeks if not months. With the UAE’s first genome testing lab set to open in Abu Dhabi, the tests can now be done locally.

This has been made possible by a partnership entered into between one of the leading genomic organizations in the world and a local chain of clinical laboratories. A memorandum of understanding to this effect has been signed by BGI Health and the Star Metropolis Clinical Laboratories, a part of the Arabian Healthcare Group.

The genome testing clinical lab offering the most sophisticated tools will make it possible to develop personalised healthcare and treatments for patients as dictated by the uniqueness of their individual genes.

BGI Health is focussed on clinical application of genetic testing technology in order to decrease birth defects and various human diseases. Under the agreement, Star Metropolis, as BGI’s partner in the UAE, will share the genetic resources of population, create joint research projects and promote sequencing-based clinical applications together with BGI. The agreement covers the UAE and other GCC countries, the Middle East and Africa regions.

BGI Health provides genetic testing of chromosome diseases, monogenic disorder, hereditary hearing loss, thalassemia, neonatal hereditary metabolic disease, leukaemia, cervical cancer and hepatitis by using the screening and diagnosis technology system throughout the human life cycle. While the technology will be available across Star Metropolis chain of existing clinical laboratories, a new genome testing laboratory is proposed to be established in Abu Dhabi.

‘’With the goal towards excellence, high efficiency and accuracy, BGI has a large number of accomplishments, including sequencing 1 percent of the human genome for the international Human Genome Project, contributing 10 pe rcent of International Human HapMap Project, carrying out research to combat SARS and the E.coli outbreak in Germany and most recently sequencing the human gut metagenome project,’’ said Wang Jun, CEO of BGI.

‘Our partnership with BGI means that the people of the region and beyond will have access to a technology that so far remained in the realm of scientific fiction. Genome research breakthroughs have now made personalized medicine a reality and we are pleased to be able to bring such technology to the people of this region in partnership with a world leader,’ said Raza Siddiqui, CEO of Arabian Healthcare Group, who signed the MoU on behalf the UAE group.

BGI Health applies human genome research achievements to human health with the aim of establishing what it describes as the 4P healthcare system: Prediction, Prevention, Participatory and Personalized healthcare. BGI Health is focussed on clinical application of genetic testing technology in order to decrease birth defects and various human diseases.

The technology is expected to be particularly effective in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of various kinds of cancer diseases.

Genetic testing for hereditary colorectal cancer detects mutations in 14 disease-related genes, which enables early prediction of the disease risk and effective follow-up interventions.

For instance, targeted cancer therapy attacks cancer cells, with little or no side-effect, by interfering with specific molecules required for carcinogenesis and tumour growth. Each person’s unique genetic makeup affects the selection and therapeutic response of the targeted drugs, and genetic testing can facilitate the selection of the most suitable targeted therapy to achieve desired treatment outcomes.

In treatments like the widely used chemotherapy, only 30-50% of patients respond favourably as genetic differences in the drug metabolic pathway can affect individual responses and sensitivity to chemotherapeutic drugs. But it has been found that genetic testing of relevant genetic polymorphisms can be used to prevent drug misuse, decrease toxicity and improve treatment efficacy.