Qatar genome research reports largest genetic association study in Middle East
May 03 2021 09:29 PM
Prof Omar Albagha, left, and Dr Karsten Suhre
Prof Omar Albagha, left, and Dr Karsten Suhre

Researchers at Qatar Foundation (QF) 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 which gives a better understanding of the genetic risk factors specific to the Arab population, including those that are shared with other ethnicities.
This points to better awareness of which genetic markers – unique to the Arab population – indicate their risk to develop a certain disease. This will significantly impact the ability to diagnose and manage certain diseases early.
This new knowledge will contribute to fill-in the gap on the global map of human genomes by representing large segments of the Arabian ancestral populations which are overwhelmingly underrepresented.
This data is a genetic reference point for Qataris, which-compared to that of other populations- will enable to identify additional genetic variations, especially if these variations are rare in other populations such as Europeans but common in Qataris. This data will contribute towards ensuring that when new drugs and treatments are designed, they take into account the unique genetic variations in the Qatari population.
The study – led by researchers at QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University ( HBKU) and 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.
Genetic association studies are done to investigate whether a genetic variant is associated with a disease. Once a new genetic association is identified, researchers then use this information to develop better detection, treatment and prevention strategies for the disease.
The findings from the study can be extrapolated to many diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or even susceptibility to Covid-19, however though, further studies are needed to identify the Qatar-specific genetic variations involved in these diseases. The research team is currently extending this genetic association study to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and susceptibility to Covid-19.
Omar Albagha, a senior author of the paper and a professor of Genomic and Precision Medicine at the College of Health and Life Sciences at HBKU, said, “The study provides new insights into the genetic architecture of clinical laboratory tests and identifies for the first time genetic variations, 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.”
Karsten Suhre, director of Bioinformatics Core at WCM-Q, and joint senior author on the paper, added, “It has been a long but successful journey from the first participant enrolment at Qatar Biobank to analysing 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.”

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