ARAB STATES: New centre to tackle genetic disorders

In an effort to boost the development of education and research in inherited diseases and genetic disorders in the Arab world, a molecular medicine centre has opened in Bahrain.

Arab nations have some of the highest rates of genetic disorders in the world due in part to the relatively high levels of consanguineous (blood-related) marriages, according to the United Arab Emirates-based Centre for Arab Genomic Studies.

More than 900 genetic diseases have been identified, around 200 of them prevalent only within the six Gulf Cooperation Council states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

To help tackle this regional problem the centre, officially launched on 28 November, will focus on providing research and educational facilities in molecular medicine, clinical genetics and gene therapy as well as defining the intellectual property rights of universities and protection of scientific discoveries.

Located at Arabian Gulf University in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, the Princess Al Jawhara Centre for Molecular Medicine, Genetic and Inherited Disorders was built through a donation from Saudi Princess Al Jawhara Al Ebrahim, the wife of Saudi King Abdullah, with land provided by King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa.

The centre's establishment has been described as a pioneering step for the Gulf region and the Arab world, as well as internationally, in the follow-up and treatment of genetic diseases.

Professor and senior consultant neuroimmunologist Moiz Bakhiet, chair of the department of molecular medicine at Arabian Gulf University and director of the centre, told University World News: "The Al-Jawhara Centre is the first academic institute in the Arab world to adopt molecular medicine and link it to clinical and molecular diagnostic services, research and education in the area of work with the community."

"As an academic institute, it has provided the first PhD in molecular medicine in the region where a major discovery in its research has been made which has resulted so far in three patent applications," Bakhiet said. The degree was awarded to a researcher from the centre.

"The centre harbours the latest techniques in the molecular diagnosis of abnormalities of genes and chromosomes in the fields of pediatrics, neonatal and reproductive health to improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention of inherited and gene-regulated diseases," Bakhiet said.

The centre will provide diagnostics services for heritable syndromes and disorders including chromosome, DNA and biochemical analysis, as well as providing clinical genetics services and specialty clinics for the adult and pediatric population.

It will also identify and describe the patterns of birth defects, assess the impact of congenital malformations on infants and families, and collaborate with others to determine factors involved in their causes in order to develop insights into primary prevention.

Morad Ahmed Morad, a professor of medicine at Tanta University in Egypt, welcomed the new regional centre. "The centre must join forces with Arab educational and scientific institutes of medical genetics and with Arab geneticists to form an academic network for promoting the development of education and scientific research in the Arab region," Morad told University World News.

According to a 2006 report by the US-based charity March of Dimes, 15 of the 22 countries with the most birth defects are in the Middle East and North Africa. Sudan has the most birth defects, with 82 per 1,000 live births, compared with 39.7 in France, which had the lowest number among the 193 countries surveyed.