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February 7, 2017

WCM-Q Research Reveals Genetic Basis of Rheumatoid Arthritis in Arabs

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) have completed a major five-year investigation of the genetic factors underlying susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis in Arab populations in five different countries.
WCM-Q’s Dr. Thurayya Arayssi, Associate Professor of Medicine/Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education, led a team of researchers from five centers across the Arab World that collected samples from around 1,600 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis in Qatar, Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the UAE, plus samples from control subjects. They then worked with researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, one of the world’s foremost genomics research labs, to analyze the genetic data of Arab populations in comparison with European and East Asian populations in relation to susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis.
The team found that mutations in a gene called HLA-DRB1 are associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) risk in Arab populations just as is the case with Europeans and East Asians, suggesting broad similarities in the genetic structure of RA across ethnic groups. However, the study also identified two additional genes that are associated with rheumatoid arthritis in Arabs but are not in Europeans and East Asians.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a potentially debilitating autoimmune disease characterized by very painful inflammation of the joints, particularly in the hands and feet. RA can also affect larger joints, the skin, lungs, kidneys and the heart and blood vessels, among other parts of the body. The cause of RA is not fully understood and there is currently no cure so treatment is focused on managing the disease.

The study, entitled ‘A multi-national Arab genome-wide association study identifies new genetic associations for Rheumatoid Arthritis’, has now been published in the prestigious medical journal Arthritis & Rheumatology. The study is part of a wider research project entitled ‘Genetic Studies of Rheumatoid Arthritis in some Arab States’ that was made possible by NPRP grant 4-344-3-105 from the Qatar National Research Fund, a member of Qatar Foundation.

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