When it comes to the field of biobanking, most of the developments we read about seem to come from the Western world, where facilities and the industry itself is more likely to be established. As a result, biobanks in the United States and Europe are often able to boast of better laboratory sample management software, plenty of biological data, sufficient funding, and resulting contributions to the field of translational medicine, as biobanks in other parts of the world struggle to keep up. Despite these challenges, a biobank in Qatar is working hard to operate on an international level, revealing helpful translational research on the health of many Qataris.
Qatar Biobank, a member of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), recently released findings from its operational pilot phase. After two years of research, the center has not only built up a store of biological samples, but has also revealed potentially useful information about health and lifestyle habits in the area. These accomplishments are in keep with the Qatar Foundation’s mission to enhance national innovation and technology through medical research, foster a progressive society and promote national health. However, the organization also hopes the biobank will further research possibilities for the Middle East and the world as a whole.
The Qatar Biobank was inspired in part by the high levels of obesity and related health problems within the country, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The pilot phase reinforced the severity of these issues: their research has found that out of 1,200 total participants, 76% of all males and 70% of all females were overweight or obese. Likewise, 52.7% of men and 31.7% were pre-hypertensive or hypertensive. However, the pilot phase also revealed that 80% of the participants reported that they engaged in no moderate physical activity per week, revealing a potential focus for those looking to reduce these worrying rates.
In addition to this research, the Qatar Biobank also plans to invest in personalized medicine and genomics through a project called the Qatar Genome Project. The Genome Project will spend a lot of time on problems like type 2 diabetes, which affects 17% of the population, by searching for causes and treatments based on individual genome coding. As part of this goal, the biobank plans to continue to collect samples from the local population, eventually hitting a target of 60,000 participants. Qatari nationals and people who have lived in Qatar for more than 15 years are eligible to participate by providing a number of samples, health information, and measurements at the Qatar Biobank clinic.
While still quite young and lacking some of the advantages of other biobanks, Qatar Biobank’s success thus far has caused them to be awarded two International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certifications by the British Standards Institutes Group of the Middle East. These credentials certify their quality management and information security, two vital qualities of an effective biobank. But what is next for this young facility? Will they help reduce obesity and related conditions in the country? Will they continue to invest in laboratory sample management software and other technology to maintain their excellent credentials? Will they use their existing laboratory sample management software to yield helpful data on treating diseases? Only time will tell.