Personalised medicine, an emerging branch of biomedical science, has started to gain traction across the globe, transforming the way medical researchers and practitioners treat prevalent diseases.

By studying the lifestyle and genetic profile of a population, researchers and healthcare providers are now entering an advanced medical era that is better able to understand, prevent and treat curable diseases. By analysing a patient’s genetic makeup and their medical history and lifestyle, medical researchers and doctors can tailor treatment plans that consider all specific variables to increase the chances of successful treatment and recovery.

In recent years, a number of countries, including Qatar, have set up large-scale biobanks to better understand the causes of major diseases that affect their populations and advance the provision of personalised medicine.

The establishment of Qatar Biobank in 2012 signalled a turning point for biomedical research. Prior to its launch, there was no available data on the medical history of local populations in the region and the bulk of existing research concern Western populations. The depth and breadth of knowledge and medical data collected by Qatar Biobank is helping to build an invaluable platform for healthcare experts to undertake high-quality biomedical research.

Dr Nahla Afifi, Scientific and Education Manager and Acting Director of Qatar Biobank, said that the knowledge gained from this research will help Qatar’s healthcare professionals develop better prevention methods and personalised treatments compatible with each individual’s genomic coding. Equipped with biomedical information, it will soon be possible to develop better prevention, diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses that affect the country’s population.

At present, a host of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, are prevalent among local and regional populations, creating a critical need for medical research to help prevent and improve treatment for communities. Advancement in the study of common diseases, and increasingly innovative approaches to treatment in Qatar, not only improve outcomes, but also mean patients will no longer have to travel abroad to seek specialised care.

Qatar Genome Programme, incubated under Qatar Biobank, is also leading the development of personalised medicine by sequencing genomic data from local population to identify genotype and phenotype associations that impact health. The pilot phase has seen 3,000 samples sequenced.

Qatar Genome Programme, in partnership with Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) also offers an annual grant, ‘Pathway Towards Personalised Medicine’, which supports researchers in genomics and genetics working at research facilities in Qatar.

The Qatari population has its own vital role to play in this medical revolution. Qataris over the age of 18, along with residents who have been living in Qatar for more than 15 years, can volunteer their biomedical data. A visit to the Qatar Biobank includes standard medical tests such as blood pressure and lung function. However, the tests carried out by Qatar Biobank also include new screenings that are not included in other large-scale biobanks, including advanced imaging techniques to measure whole-body composition and the health of carotid arteries, as well as a treadmill test to measure physical fitness.

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