Initiative aims to discover novel susceptibility genes in Arab population and support early detection of those at high genetic risk of breast cancer
Compelling evidence supports the notion that the causes, prognosis, and molecular features of breast cancer in Qatar and the MENA region differ from those elsewhere in the world.
Now Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) – part of Qatar Foundation member Hamad Bin Khalifa University – and the King Hussain Cancer Center (KHCC) in Jordan, together with Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), have launched a strategic initiative aimed at developing a better understanding of breast cancer complexity in the Arab region, employing cutting-edge technologies and engaging scientists and clinicians with varied expertise.
Regionally, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women accounting for approximately 30 percent of female cancer cases in Qatar and the MENA region, meaning it represents a major health burden.
The chief goal of the Qatar-Jordan collaboration is to discover novel susceptibility genes in the Arab population which could help to identify and monitor families with a high genetic risk of developing breast cancer; and to enable prevention, early detection, and treatment, improve breast cancer patients’ prospects of surviving the condition. It could also lead to more personalized treatment for patients, by allowing the most appropriate therapy to be selected based on their genetic background.
Dr. Amal Al Omari, Chief Scientific Officer at KHCC, explained: “Breast cancer is still the most common malignancy among women worldwide and constitutes a significant percentage of all cancer cases diagnosed in Arab females.
Our understanding of disease mechanisms and gene functions enables us to guide treatment strategies and design medical interventions that are appropriate to the individual patient's needs
“Breast cancer in Arab women is also characterized by distinctive features, such as the younger age at the point of diagnosis compared to Western countries. Today, our understanding of disease mechanisms and gene functions enables us to guide treatment strategies and design medical interventions that are appropriate to the individual patient's needs and assess the extent of the response to these targeted interventions.”
Among the well-known familial breast cancer risk factors are mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which account for only 10-20 percent of high-risk cancer cases. This means the genetic driver behind other high-risk familial breast cancer phenotypes in the MENA region remain unidentified.
Our ongoing collaboration with King Hussain Cancer Center expands our Arab population sample research and gives us the opportunity to discover and study the different underlying disease mutations
As a first step towards identification of those driver genes, QBRI has received the first batch of genomic DNA from patients with familial breast cancer not related to BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations from KHCC. Those samples have undergone whole genome sequencing, with the data currently being analyzed. Initial analysis of those samples has revealed the presence of large number of genetic alterations.
Through complex computational algorithms, scientists at QBRI are currently working to decipher genetic data to identify novel susceptibility driver genes beyond BRCA1 and BRCA2. They are doing this by analyzing additional samples from KHCC while also integrating data from Qatari patients though the collaboration with HMC, to provide a wider picture of genomic alterations in breast cancer patients from the MENA region.
Dr. Omar El-Agnaf, Executive Director of QBRI, said, “Breast cancer can be a result of different underlying genetic causes, and this variability lends itself to the growing field of precision medicine, which can result in immense patient benefits.
We hope that, in the near future, there will be a transformation in healthcare and diagnostic technology in the Arab world
“Our ongoing collaboration with King Hussain Cancer Center expands our Arab population sample research and gives us the opportunity to discover and study the different underlying disease mutations. We are applying a multidisciplinary approach while analyzing the shared samples; the genetic analysis is ongoing, and is expected to yield important findings that will accelerate precision medicine and improvements in patient care.”
The next phase of the collaboration will focus on identifying early biomarkers for breast cancer diagnosis and prognosis, and to identify biomarkers which could be used to offer a more tailored treatment choices for breast cancer from the MENA region.
Dr. Asem Mansour, Chief Executive Officer and Director General of KHCC, said: “There is great optimism for this unique scientific cooperation between the exceptional research capabilities of Qatar Biomedical Research Institute and the distinguished medical and research expertise at the King Hussein Cancer Center.
“We hope that, in the near future, there will be a transformation in healthcare and diagnostic technology in the Arab world, with the wider application of personalized medicine and the adoption of individualized treatment plans that are tailored for the unique biological and genetic makeup of each patient.”