The United Arab Emirates Genetic Diseases Association (UAEGDA) was established with the aim to increase awareness programmes in order to prevent the occurrence of common genetic disorders in the UAE and throughout the region. Daily Dose caught up with HE Dr Maryam Matar, Genetic Scientist, Founder and Chairperson, UAEGDA, ahead of the show to find out the different initiatives being carried out by the association.
She said: “The UAE Genetics Disorders Association (GDA) started with blood disorder initiatives, however, it is currently working on several others such as Familial hypercholesterolemia, G6PD, sickle cell, and thalassemia, among other. One of them is also the fragile x chromosome, which is related to autism. There is a specific mutation that increases the risk of that child to have autism.”
The association also has a breast cancer initiative along with two international centers with which they are able to identify 21 new mutations for breast cancer, which is very essential for the management. “Previously, a patient with cancer, would be screened only for BRCA1 and BRCA2,” she explained. “With our exercise, we are able to specify mutations specific to our ethnicity such as people coming from Middle East, Africa, India, Philippines, Pakistan, etc.”
For instance, if there is any patient diagnosed with breast cancer in the Middle East in these ethnicities, healthcare institutions can check for the 21 mutations, which are specific to the ethnicity. The impact of that would be that their medication and chemotherapy can be modified. “We have a complete circle of chain – prevention, counselling, early detection and management. We don’t do it ourselves, but have a partner who is helping us to achieve this,” she added,
One of the other initiatives that makes UAEGDA unique is that under its umbrella they host the GCC Genomic Society. As part of the society, doctors from member GCC countries gather once every year at a conference, where they decide what type of project and priority of mutation needs to be focused on. Furthermore, UAEGDA is also a member of the Global Rare Diseases Commission.
She concludes: “We are working on an Epigenetics project and focusing on the impact of sleep and gene expression of common non-communicable disorders such as diabetes, hypertension etc. Epigenetics tries to address the relationship between the environmental factor and genetic make-up.
“My advice to people is that if you cannot change your lifestyle, at least try to modify your sleeping pattern. If you have better quality of sleep, you will help your body to maintain itself during the night so that it will switch off all those mutations that can increase the risk of obesity, hypertension, cancer etc.”