Genetic Diseases in the Middle East

A Khaleej Times article from December 23, 2007, quotes Dr Ghazi Omar Tadmori, Assistant Director, Centre for Arab Genomic Studies (CAGS), Dubai, as saying, "Arab nations spend more than $30 billion every year on patients suffering from hereditary diseases …" and that the occurrence of hereditary diseases is also growing each year.

An October 2006 article entitled "Genetic disorders in the Arab world," which was written by scientists from the UAE, Jordan, and Bahrain, and was published in the British Medical Journal, states: "Available evidence suggests that congenital and genetic disorders are responsible for a major proportion of infant mortality, morbidity, and handicap in Arab countries. The population of the region is characterised by large family size, high maternal and paternal age, and a high level of inbreeding with consanguinity rates in the range of 25-60%."

The article also states "Certain disorders are common throughout the Arab world, including haemoglobinopathies, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, different congenital malformations caused by recessive genes, and several metabolic disorders. Other recessive disorders cluster in certain groups and subpopulations. Genetic services vary in extent and coverage in different Arab countries, but mostly they remain patchy, selective, and inadequate."

To help address the problem, the CAGS was established in 2003, and one of its major projects is the Catalogue for Transmission Genetics in Arabs (CTGA), an online, freely accessible database of genetic disorders reported from the Arab World.

The CAGS publication Genetic Disorders in Arab Populations: A 2006 Update contains genetic disorders found in the various Arab populations. As of October 2006, the CTGA database indicates the presence of 774 phenotype (disease) entries in Arab individuals. Some common conditions by type are: chromosomal (e.g., Down syndrome, Turner syndrome), single-gene disorders (e.g., sickle cell disease, thalassemia, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, hemophilia, inborn errors of metabolism), and multi-factorial disorders (e.g., coronary artery disease, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, hypertension, obesity). According to CAGS, those that have assumed epidemic proportions in the Arab world are: sickle cell disease, alpha-thalassemia, hypertension, and diabetes.

CAGS was also a participant in the preliminary meeting to discuss the conception of the Human Variome Project (HVP), held in Melbourne, Australia, in 2006. The HVP is an international initiative to collect and curate in a global repository, data on all human genetic variation.

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