MBRU, in collaboration with Al Jalila Children’s Hospital Genomic Center, Dubai Health Authority, and other Universities in the UAE, launches a genome sequencing study of 240 viral samples
Genomics will give scientists a better understanding of how the virus spreads in the UAE
Dubai, April 2020: Dubai’s COVID-19 Command and Control Center (CCC) has announced the UAE’s first full genome sequencing of the virus causing COVID-19. The successful sequencing of the virus from a patient in Dubai was performed by researchers at the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) in collaboration with Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital’s Genomics Center. The Genomics Center was launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE & Ruler of Dubai, in January of this year.
The Dubai COVID-19 Command and Control Center was established by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, to ensure entities from the field of healthcare and multiple pivotal sectors are aligned with the Dubai Government’s efforts to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.
Recent studies show that the virus causing COVID-19 (known as SARS-CoV-2) changes its genetic code every two weeks on average. By studying the genetic sequence of the virus from many patients, scientists can get a better understanding of how the virus spreads, which can later inform measures to combat the virus.
The initial sequencing and subsequent analysis revealed that the virus was of the ‘S’ type, and the sequence was closest to a strain reported in Illinois, USA, on February 12, 2020.
Dr. Ahmad Abou Tayoun, Associate Professor of Genetics at MBRU and Director of the Genomics Center at Al Jalila Children’s, said: “This is a specific example of how this information can help trace the origin of infection in this specific patient from the UAE, and can tell us a lot about viral transmission in the emirates.”
“However, more viral strains need to be sequenced from several patients across different regions within the country, and at different time points of infection. All the data can then be compiled to construct a spatiotemporal map of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the UAE, and to highlight any infection hotspots requiring higher surveillance during this, or any future similar, pandemics.”
Dr. Amer Sharif, Vice Chancellor of MBRU and head of Dubai’s COVID-19 Command and Control Center said that completion of the genome sequencing procedure is proof of the effective collaboration between key entities in the healthcare sector in the fight against COVID-19. “The genome sequencing procedure is a direct result of the collaborative work between academic and research institutions, as we’re witnessing with this genome project having a proactive academic health system in place helps address challenges in the healthcare field that make significant changes in the scientific community which ultimately serves our communities. This new finding will provide great impetus to the scientific community on understanding and analyzing the COVID-19 virus, in our efforts to contain and stop the spread of this virus.”
He further continued, “With the expansion of the genome sequencing procedures across the UAE, we look forward to further developments from the scientific community that will strengthen the fight against the pandemic. The role our scientific community is playing is vital in informing policy locally and globally. Reiterating the words of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the world has long been questioning where the true power lies, the spread of COVID-19 has shown that healthcare is the main power that shapes economy and politics at a time when a disease brought nations to a standstill.”
The latest sequencing is part of a larger project led by MBRU, DHA, AJCH and other local universities. The genome sequencing will continue with samples from 240 patients in the UAE, which will help the scientists determine which viral strains cause severe versus mild disease, information that will help in patient management. It will also help in understanding if vaccines, which are currently under development, can be as effective in the UAE. “Moreover, given Dubai’s role and geographic location as a bridge between the East and the West, this information will also help in understanding how the pandemic has been spreading globally,” added Dr. Abou Tayoun.