DUBAI // Experts in genetics and DNA mapping are expected in Dubai in 2011 for an international conference. The Human Genome Meeting, a collaboration of the Human Genome Organisation (Hugo) and the Centre for Arab Genomic Studies, is expected to draw about 10,000 researchers, medical professionals and government officials. "Genetics will become the biggest concern of the Government in the future," said Dr Mahmoud Taleb al Ali, director of the centre. "This is due to the fact that the prevalence of genetic diseases is much higher in the UAE and Arab world" because of the popularity of marriage between relatives, he said.
"There are no solid screening programmes for detecting genetic diseases early in life and until recently there have not been effective preventive or public awareness programmes in the country." Many common diseases in the Emirates are genetic in origin, such as thalassaemia, sickle-cell anaemia, diabetes, enzyme deficiencies and chromosomal disorders. Dr al Ali said that, because of the prevalence of these diseases in the region, public health measures would have to incorporate genomics as part of routine medical testing. "In the future I would foresee a situation where you would have to screen 10 or 15 disorders.
"All hospitals will have to provide genetic facilities: genetic screening, diagnostic facilities, and clinical genetic facilities." Currently, the UAE lacks specialists in the field, he said, although he said he hoped that would change. "We will become a hub for research. Every day in the papers I see various research grants, private companies offering grants for research." Prof Edison Liu, president of Hugo, said the UAE was in a unique position, with the Government eager to support research.
"The Middle East may be one of the few places where that kind of genomic medicine can take hold. The reason is that inheritable disorders are much higher here than in other places in the world. Because it is a public health problem, ministries are putting resources and thinking behind the whole process in a way that we don't see in the West." The 2011 conference was announced by Humaid al Qattami, the Minister of Health, at the Dubai International Conference for Medical Sciences.