With reporting from Mai Akkad
As part of Qatar’s efforts to shore up a knowledge economy and tackle health problems facing residents, the country has been working to get the region’s first biobank up and running.
The facility, located within Hamad Medical City, stores samples of blood, saliva, urine and body measurements taken from locals and expats who have lived here for more than 15 years for research purposes.
Analysis of the data (which remains anonymous) will be used to tackle chronic health problems here, the initiative explains on its website:
Over the next few years, research enabled by Qatar Biobank will show how the health of the Qatari population is affected by their lifestyle, environment and genes. Qatar Biobank will, therefore, help improve the prevention and treatment of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and other life-threatening and debilitating illnesses that affect communities in Qatar.
The bank has been created in collaboration with Qatar Foundation’s Biomedical Research Institute, Hamad Medical Corp. and the Supreme Council of Health, with support from scientists at the Imperial College London.
Long way to go
Three months into accepting participants, the facility has only collected samples from some 300 residents. But it has set an ambitious goal of getting 60,000 participants by 2018.
The lack of samples could have to do with the fact that the payoff for residents is still far away. Elio Riboli, professor in cancer epidemiology and prevention at Imperial College London, explains:
“The benefit here is a bit more indirect. As you know, the time it takes in modern science and medicine to translate new findings into new types of treatment and make these treatments available is in the order of 10 to 15 years. Therefore Qatar Biobank, as well as any other similar initiatives, would not have a short-term effect on the type of medical treatment offered in Qatar.”
However, he added that the facility could boost Qatar’s healthcare reputation in the long run and encourage more locals to seek medical treatment at home.
Contributing takes about three hours, and involves donating fluid samples and having a series of measurements taken, including height, weight, grip strength, blood pressure, body composition, and heart and lung function via a treadmill test.
Participants who do not feel comfortable taking a certain test can opt out at any time during their visit. More details can be found here.
Fahad Al Thani, a Qatari who recently donated samples to the bank, said:
“What I most liked about the experience was that the privacy and convenience of the participants was carefully considered throughout the research. From the moment I entered and until my way out I was treated with care and I felt that I was the only participant there.”
Credit: Photo by Sharon Drummond