A new study by Qatar Foundation researchers from the Qatar Genome Research Consortium and Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) reported the first landscape of cancer germline variation – known as inherited cancer – in the Middle East.

The study, led by Dr Lotfi Chouchane from WCM-Q, has been published online in the Lancet Oncology – a prestigious leading peer-reviewed medical journal published by The Lancet and is titled Genetic Predisposition to Cancer Across People of Different Ancestries in Qatar: A Population-Based, Cohort Study. The study provides in-depth screening of both common and rare cancer genetic markers in Qataris.

Inherited cancer

The risk of developing cancer varies according to ancestry. The Middle East countries, including Qatar, are experiencing an alarming increase in cancer patients. Numerous disease-associated genetic markers, including cancer, display substantial diversity among different populations.

However, the difference in risk of cancer between those who have inherited cancer passed down from generation to generation, are not well defined in the Arab population. The present study is shedding light on the cancer genetic markers found in Arab populations to help understand the development or progression of cancer and is highlighting the high degree of diversity of susceptibility to cancer across ancestries observed in the Qatari population.

These findings should be considered for the implementation of national cancer preventive medicine programmes.

Precision medicine

Lead Principal Investigator of the study and Professor of Genetic Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology at WCM-Q, Lotfi Chouchane, said that incorporation of precision medicine technology, including cancer screening and genome sequencing, into the primary care system in Qatar, has significant potential.

He said that the results of their study comprise a valuable source to capture cancer genetic markers in the different ancestries of the Arab populations and define quantitative and qualitative expectations for the results of personal genome sequencing. He added that the study is paving the way to deliver a precision cancer prevention programme in Qatar.

With screening, prevention and early detection at the forefront of the cancer agenda in Qatar, we propose to leverage the population genome sequencing by initiating national population testing programmes to identify highly penetrant cancer gene mutation carriers like individuals being at an increased risk for hereditary breast/ovarian cancers.

Qatar Genome Programme Director Dr Said Ismail said they are determined to spearhead the transition from bench to bedside and this array is the starting point to provide a personalised screening for health and disease in Qatar and the region.

Micheal Pellini, MD, former president and CEO of Foundation Medicine Inc, a leading company in the precision oncology field and currently a Managing Partner of Section 32, said the paper gives great insights into how we should be thinking of cancer screening and risk in the future.

If we can better understand a person’s, or even a subpopulation’s germline risk, we could tailor screening protocols rather than treating everyone the same. It will save resources and expenses, and result in much better, more personalised, care.

The study, according to Qatar Genome Programme Research Partnerships Manager Hamdi Mbarek, aims to fill the gap of the underrepresented Arab ancestry in genomic research and contribute to increasing diversity and equity, a key to advancing science globally.

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