Sidra Hosts Qatar’s First Symposium on Functional Genomics

Sidra Medical and Research Center (Sidra) hosted Qatar’s first symposium dedicated to Functional Genomics. With more than 350 people in attendance, the symposium on the 13th and 14th of December 2015 featured leading international speakers, sponsors and exhibitors.

The Functional Genomics Symposium is dedicated to sharing knowledge on the latest research trends and programs in functional genomics and genomics medicine. The aim of functional genomics is to understand the complex relationships between genotype and phenotype on a global (genome-wide) scale. Sidra is preparing to implement functional genomic studies aimed at advancing local and regional research capacities with the ultimate goal of improving health care in Qatar.

Sidra’s Research Chief of Translational Medicine and Chair of the Functional Genomics Symposium Organizing Committee, Dr. Ena Wang said, “Understanding the genome is the key to building a roadmap for better health outcomes. Genomics research is an integral part of Sidra’s research strategy and it is our intention to host annual symposiums dedicated to genomics and beyond. The Functional Genomics symposium this year was truly a unique opportunity to bring together the best minds and the best practices in genomic research and genome guided medicine– the possibilities of which will positively impact local and regional developments in genomic studies as well as advance personalized health care”.

Sidra’s Vice Chair of the Board of Governors and Chair of the Executive Committee, Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham hosted the opening address. He announced a key milestone with the Qatar Genome Project pilot study by stating that Sidra’s Clinical Genomic Lab and Omic core team will complete the first 1000 whole genome sequences (WGS) by end of 2015. The team aim to complete the pilot phase of 3000 WGS by June 2016.

The QGP pilot study will help create a comprehensive genome-wide catalogue of variants that are representative of the genetic diversity of the Qatari population. This will pave the way for the first Qatar genome reference generation which will function as baseline for future disease focused studies and build the first draft of Qatari Reference Genomes.

Dr Asma Ali Al-Thani, Chair of the Qatar Genome Project Committee and Vice Chairperson of Qatar Biobank, who spoke at the symposium, said, “Over the past ten years, Qatar has seen a revolutionary improvement in the field of healthcare.  Advancements in primary healthcare, health insurance and the establishment of the Qatar Genome Project is a continuation of our commitment and a step forward in achieving Qatar National Vision 2030. As the QGP embarks on its pilot phase, our goal is clear; position Qatar as the leader in personalized healthcare allowing for local and regional impact with global significance”.

Dr. Francesco Marincola, Sidra’s Chief Research Officer, summarized Sidra’s systematic approach in tackling human genomics research and its clinical implementation. He outlined Sidra’s Immune Quest Project, as part of the functional mapping of the human genome. Dr. Marincola also announced the dates of the second Functional Genomics Symposium. Titled “Beyond the Genome Series – Nature versus Nurture”, the Symposium will be held on 11 and 12 December, 2016.

International speakers  at the Functional Genomics Symposium included Dr. Clare Turnbull, the Clinical Lead for the Genomics England Cancer Program from Genomics England; Dr. David Bentley the Vice President and Chief Scientist from Illumina Inc; and the Chief Editor of Nature Genetics, Dr. Myles Axton. The speakers shared several examples of genetic programs from England, Iceland and the Netherlands and how other countries looking to implement their own genome programs can review best practice methodologies. Dr. Jerry Chan Kok Yen the Research Director from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital Singapore presented case studies on intrauterine molecular therapies and Dr. Howard Jacob the Chief Genomic Medicine Offer from Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology in Alabama discussed expanding the number of hospitals practicing genomic medicine.

Several presentations by local speakers from Hamad Medical Corporation, Qatar Biobank, Sidra and Qatar Biomedical Research Institute highlighted the impact of genetic studies on complex disorders and rare diseases in Qatar. Sidra’s Chair of the Genetics Program, Dr. Xavier Estivill presented on the PanCancer genome analysis and the path towards women’s personalized medicine while Dr. Paolo Gasparini, Sidra’s Division Chief of Experimental Human Genetics covered 30 years of genetic discovery to gene therapy.  Dr. Mohammed Ghaly, Professor of Islam and Biomedical Ethics from Hamad Bin Khalifa University discussed the Islamic perspective on ethical concerns and issues related to functional genomics.
Gold sponsors of the Functional Genomics Symposium were Illumina Inc., Alliance Global, LabWare Arabia and NanoString. The Symposium closed with an Abstract Award ceremony sponsored by F1000 Research.

For additional information on the abstracts as well as synopsis on some of the presentations from the Functional Genomics Symposium – please visit