Programs at HBKU’s College of Health and Life Sciences imparts education to train medical workforce in precision medicine
True to its name – precision medicine or personalized medicine is arguably where the future of medicine lies. With a tailored approach to diagnosis, treatment, and medication, it points to a time where healthcare may primarily mean prevention rather than treatment.
Applying precision medicine to clinical practice requires deep understanding of genomic and environmental factors and since these differ between populations, precision medicine approaches developed based on western populations may not work well when applied to the population in Qatar.
Therefore, developing relevant expertise within the healthcare workforce, as well as investing in research and education is crucial to the implementation of precision medicine in Qatar. This means training specialists in precision medicine to understand genomic data, and having geneticists and genetic counselors available to help translate that data to patients.
To that end, the College of Health and Life Sciences (CHLS) at Qatar Foundation’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) offers master’s and PhD programs in Genomics and Precision Medicine. The programs are open to those with undergraduate and graduate degrees in health and life sciences.
In the master’s and PhD programs at HBKU, students learn how our genome, our environment, and their interactions can affect disease outcome. This could help them understand why certain people react differently to the same treatment and why some present more seriously than others. Genomic data can also help identify diseases that people are predisposed to suffer from at some point in their lives, while it also helps determine treatment plans for them.
Genomic research in osteoporosis, for example, has led to the development of a more effective drug with less adverse side effects compared to current drugs
For instance, Dr. Omar Albagha, a professor at CHLS said: “Genomic research can identify new targets for developing more effective treatments or treatments with less adverse side-effects. Genomic research in osteoporosis, for example, has led to the development of a more effective drug with less adverse side effects compared to current drugs.”
Additionally, the precision medicine programs at HBKU offer the students training in state-of-the-art technologies in genomics, bioinformatics and big data analysis.
Between the research sector and the clinical sector, there’s a lot of work to be done in the field
“Our program ensures that students have a comprehensive understanding of genomic data, so that when they graduate, they are aware of the ethical, social, and sociological implications of their study. They can then communicate this information to genetic counselors who translate it into everyday terms and provide a comprehensive understanding of what it means to patients,” said Dr. Edward Stuenkel, Dean of CHLS.
According to Dr. Stuenkel, the job market is rich for those studying precision medicine. “Between the research sector and the clinical sector, there’s a lot of work to be done in the field. Countries will ultimately also start to recruit students in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries; so the future there is excellent,” he said.
Recent research shows that your genomic background can affect how you exercise – stamina, diet, metabolism, etc
Genomic data is also permeating other sectors of health and lifestyle, with offerings in exercise science. Dr. Albagha says: “Recent research shows that your genomic background can affect how you exercise – stamina, diet, metabolism, etc. That’s another field that is emerging and could present opportunities for our graduates.”
Exercise science is an excellent demonstration of the use of genomic data in preventative medicine. While sports medicine is primarily focused on rehabilitation and recovery from injuries, the use of genomic data can help understand who is more likely to experience certain severe injuries and predict a treatment and recovery trajectory.
As precision medicine continues to pervade the world of healthcare, there is a strong need to also educate healthcare workers currently in the workforce. HKBU is working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health to ensure that this takes place through Continuing Professional Development Programs (CPD) which are programs that take place over the course of a few days and provide a basic understanding of genomics and precision medicine data to medical workers.
The hurdles faced by precision medicine practitioners vary from cost to privacy and capacity building, but Dr. Stuenkel believes that the key to creating an informed community is to integrate an understanding of precision medicine in K-12 programs. “It’s really important to bring this to the younger generation because they are the future. They’re the ones that will communicate this information to their families. They’re the ones we need to excite about the future of science,” he said.