Qatar makes rapid advancements in precision medicine: HBKU researcher
May 20 2022 11:05 PM
Dr Puthen Veettil Jithesh
Dr Puthen Veettil Jithesh

Qatar is making rapid advancements in precision medicine with several researches and pilot studies taking place in various fields, noted a researcher and faculty member of the Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), part of Qatar Foundation.
“Based on results from our research, three pharmacogenomics pilot studies were initiated by the Qatar Genome Programme in collaboration with the Hamad Medical Corporation. One such study is looking at the clinical utility of genetic testing of patients for appropriate dosage calculation of a widely used blood thinning agent, warfarin,” revealed, Dr Puthen Veettil Jithesh, associate professor, College of Health and Life Sciences (CHLS), HBKU in an interview with Gulf Times.
“Once the clinical utility is established, it is possible to use genetic testing in patients before warfarin is administered, and dosage may be calculated based on the genetic variants in the patient, in combination with other factors such as age, gender, height, weight, and other medications taken at the same time. Once such a testing is done, the result may be stored in the electronic health records system in the hospital, and this will facilitate the retrieval of the result any time the patient needs a prescription,” explained the academic.
Dr Jithesh said precision medicine can be implemented at different levels and some may be started with a little effort, while some others require further extensive research and development of appropriate technologies.
“In fact, we have already analysed several genes affecting close to 50 medications for the Qatar Genome Programme study participants, and if these results are stored in the electronic health records of these individuals, these may be accessed at any time. Such pre-emptive implementation of pharmacogenomics is the easiest way to start precision medicine-based treatment,” he explained.
Dr Jithesh said the CHLS offers both Masters and PhD programmes in Genomic and Precision Medicine. “One of its kind in the whole Middle East region and even beyond, this pioneering programme prepares the next generation of scientists and leaders in the field of precision medicine. There is some coursework to provide the students with a solid background in the concepts and technologies, often taught using a ‘problem-based learning’ approach,” he noted.
Dr Jithesh said the major focus is on developing students’ ability to do independent research in this upcoming field, both providing a basic understanding of the disease mechanisms as well as translational research that directly benefits the patients.
According to the researcher, despite the college being in its infancy, the talented faculty and the motivated students have conducted excellent research that has led to high impact publications and potential tangible outcomes, such as paving the way for implementing precision medicine.
“Dr Kholoud Bastaki, the first Qatari graduate from the programme, identified the distribution of genetic variants affecting response to antidepressants and antipsychotics in the Qatari population, and is currently working on understanding the potential of implementing genetic testing of patients with mental health conditions before prescribing these medications at the Hamad Medical Corporation,” he said.
Dr Jithesh feels that another big advantage in the advancement of precision medicine in the country is the biobanking facility that has provided a competitive edge to Qatar when it comes to human subjects’ research.
“The Qatar BioBank has certainly played a pivotal role in the realisation of the Qatar Genome Programme by recruiting adult Qataris for collecting multiple types of samples and numerous important phenotypic information among other clinical and biochemical parametres. It also holds several other cohorts including a mother and child cohort and a Covid-19 patient sample and data collection. These are indeed valuable resources for research and development. Seamless access to these resources by interested researchers in Qatar will certainly lead to placing Qatar in the forefront of countries implementing precision medicine, not only in the region, but also across the globe,” he added.

Last updated: May 20 2022 11:08 PM

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