Largest comprehensive Middle East GWAS reveals Arab genetic risk factors

February 23, 2021

Doha, Qatar - (February 23, 2021) - A group of researchers at Qatar Foundation have reported the first and largest genetic association study in the Middle East, that has been published online in Nature Communications - a leading a peer-reviewed, open access, scientific journal published by Nature Research.

The study titled "Whole genome sequencing in the Middle Eastern Qatari population identifies genetic associations with 45 clinically relevant traits" highlights a vital piece of information wherein now there is a better understanding of the genetic risk factors that are specific to the Arab population, including those that are shared with other ethnicities.

Qatar was among the first countries to launch its own large-scale, national genome project. Qatar Genome combines whole genome sequencing data with comprehensive phenotypic resource collected at Qatar Biobank, and is considered the first, largest and most ambitious population-based projects of its kind in the Middle East.

This kind of studies can be considered as experiments conducted by nature, where the natural variation found in the genomes of thousands of Qataris is linked to variations in their respective blood tests. The results from this project are shared publicly, ensuring that the specificities of the Arab genomes will be taken into consideration in future research on new treatments and therapies.

The study - led by researchers at Qatar Foundation's (QF's) Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) and QF's partner university Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar (WCM-Q), along with other scientists from the Qatar Genome Research Consortium - includes over 6,000 Qatari individuals with whole genome sequence data.

By performing detailed assessments of genetic variants across the whole genome in 6,218 individuals, comprising data from 45 clinically relevant traits, this study identified about 300 independent genetic signals. Some of these signals were predominantly found in the Qatari population. This observation was then confirmed in a further 7,768 subjects from QF's Qatar Biobank.

Omar Albagha, Principal Investigator from HBKU's College of Health and Life Sciences, says: "The study provides new insights into the genetic architecture of clinical laboratory tests and identifies for the first time genetic variations that are specific to the population of Qatar. The study also shows that findings from genetic studies in European populations don't translate well when applied to our population in the Middle East. This argues for further studies to define the genetic architecture of diseases in our region. We are excited because the study represents a foundation for the implementation of precision medicine in the Middle East."

Karsten Suhre, Director of Bioinformatics Core at Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar and joint senior author on the paper, says: "It has been a long but successful journey from the first patient recruitments to Qatar Biobank to analyzing the resulting enormous genetic data set for associations with clinically relevant traits, and we as a consortium are proud to contribute with this paper to the international effort of obtaining an even better understanding of our human genome."

"Qatar Genome Research Consortium gave research groups the platform to study whole genome sequencing and other omics data to empower the genetic discoveries in this part of the world, which otherwise would be under-represented," said Professor Said Ismail, Director of QF's Qatar Genome, part of QF Research, Development, and Innovation.
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Reference: Thareja G, Al-Sarraj Y, Belkadi A, Almotawa M, the Qatar Genome Program Research (QGPRC) Consortium, Suhre K, Albagha O.M.E. "Whole genome sequencing in the Middle Eastern Qatari population identifies genetic associations with 45 clinically relevant traits" Nature Communications 2021 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-21381-3

About Qatar Genome Program

Qatar Genome Program (QGP) is the largest genome project in the Middle East with a mission to promote genomic research and clinical implementation at a national level. QGP is designed around a comprehensive strategy involving large scale genome sequencing and multi-omics data, establishing local and international research partnerships, building local human capacity, facilitating integration into the healthcare system, drafting guidelines and policies, raising public awareness as well as empowering and educating patients.

About Qatar Biobank

Qatar Biobank is a medical research center performing vital health research through its collection of samples and information on health and lifestyle of the Qatari population. Qatar Biobank was created in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corporation and the Ministry of Public Health to enable local scientists to conduct medical research on prevalent health issues in Qatar. Qatar Genome and Qatar Biobank are both Research, Development & Innovation entities within Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.

About Hamad Bin Khalifa University

Innovating Today, Shaping Tomorrow

Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), a member of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development (QF), was founded in 2010 as a research-intensive university that acts as a catalyst for transformative change in Qatar and the region while having global impact. Located in Education City, HBKU is committed to building and cultivating human capacity through an enriching academic experience, innovative ecosystem, and unique partnerships. HBKU delivers multidisciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs through its colleges, and provides opportunities for research and scholarship through its institutes and centers. For more information about HBKU, visit http://www.hbku.edu.qa.

About Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar

Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar is a partnership between Cornell University and Qatar Foundation. It offers a comprehensive six-year medical program leading to the Cornell University M.D. degree with teaching by Cornell and Weill Cornell faculty and by physicians at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), Aspetar Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Hospital, the Primary Health Care Corporation, the Feto Maternal Center, and Sidra Medicine, who hold Weill Cornell appointments. Through its biomedical research program, WCM-Q is building a sustainable research community in Qatar while advancing basic science and clinical research. Through its medical college, WCM-Q seeks to provide the finest education possible for medical students, to improve health care both now and for future generations, and to provide high quality health care to the Qatari population.

Qatar Foundation - Unlocking Human Potential

Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) is a non-profit organization that supports Qatar on its journey to becoming a diversified and sustainable economy. QF strives to serve the people of Qatar and beyond by providing specialized programs across its innovation-focused ecosystem of education, research and development, and community development.

QF was founded in 1995 by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Father Amir, and Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, who shared the vision to provide Qatar with quality education. Today, QF's world-class education system offers lifelong learning opportunities to community members as young as six months through to doctoral level, enabling graduates to thrive in a global environment and contribute to the nation's development.

QF is also creating a multidisciplinary innovation hub in Qatar, where homegrown researchers are working to address local and global challenges. By promoting a culture of lifelong learning and fostering social engagement through programs that embody Qatari culture, QF is committed to empowering the local community and contributing to a better world for all.

For a complete list of QF's initiatives and projects, please visit: http://www.qf.org.qa

For any media inquiries, please contact: pressoffice@qf.org.qa

Qatar Foundation

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