13 February 2016Decoding DNA
A Saudi woman has proved once again sky is the limit for excellence. Faculty member at Harvard University and fellow of the American Board of Molecular Genetic Pathology Dr. Malak Abid Al-Thaqafi has received a number of awards and accolades, including letters of appreciation from various leaders, including US President Barak Obama and Makkah Emir Prince Khaled Al-Faisal for her scientific work on genes.
"Winning awards and accolades is a great thing but it is not my real ambition. I want to be play a major role in developing the medical field and serving my country and fellow citizens through the Saudi Genome Project, which is one of the most significant field of research," she said.
The genome project is sponsored by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KASCT) and focuses on identifying the genetic basis of diseases in Saudi population.
Numerous scientists, doctors and surgeons are part of the team and there are plans for future cooperation with Harvard School of Medicine to benefit from and exchange expertise with in the field.
Currently, Al-Thaqafi and her colleagues are working on setting up the infrastructure for the genome laboratory at KASCT.
The project derives its importance from the fact that it seeks to build a huge database for the most important hereditary diseases in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Over 100,000 samples will be studied and genome tests will be run inside specialized technical laboratories.
The project will allow men and women to have a clear idea about the types of prevalent genomes they have in their bodies and give them the freedom to undergo tests before marriage or during pregnancy, Al-Thaqafi said.
"The results of this gargantuan project will take years before they get ready. Besides, all the tests will be carried out inside the clinical laboratories in the country and there will be no need to send them abroad, as it costs a lot of money," she said.
Al-Thaqafi urged any man or woman thinking of getting married to take premarital medical tests.
Hereditary diseases are spreading in the Arab region due to consanguineous marriages.
Many of the conditions cannot be cured and treating those that can eat up a considerable portion of the government's annual health budget.
One of the major challenges facing genetics research in the Kingdom is the shortage of specialized technical staff and expertise. The second challenge is funds as the research costs huge amounts of money.
Businessmen should play a role in supporting research in the field by allocating part of their charity to this type of research, as it is important for humanity's wellbeing.
The third challenge is awareness. Many members of the public are not aware of the great benefit of genome studies and refuse to participate in them as volunteers.
"We need to raise public awareness about these studies and even explain the benefits to them," Al-Thaqafi said.
© The Saudi Gazette 2016