30 Apr 2018 – 9:30

Sidra Medicine to study autism risk factors to build long-term national resource

The Peninsula

DOHA: Sidra Medicine, a specialty children’s, young people and women’s healthcare organisation and member of Qatar Foundation (QF), will begin a programme aimed at creating a long-term National Resource for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) research.

The research will focus on both environmental and molecular risk factors for autism in Qatar, ushering in a new era of scientific research that is customised for the region.

qatar airways

The study, titled The Baraka-Qatar (baraka is the Arabic word for blessing, carrying the dual cultural connotations of ‘may the quest to study ASD in Qatar attain blessing’ and that ‘all children, regardless of developmental challenges, are a blessing’), is a four-year programme that aims towards building a national resource for the advancement of knowledge of Autism in Qatar.

The Baraka study, which is based on a multidisciplinary analysis of clinical and genomic data, will support the diagnosis, therapy and treatment for children with ASD in Qatar. It will start with clinical research in collaboration with Dr  Madeeha Kamal, an attending physician with the Adolescent Medicine team at Sidra Medicine.

Dr Khalid Fakhro (pictured), Director of Human Genetics at Sidra Medicine, who is leading the study, said, “The rising prevalence of autism had made it the subject of research attention worldwide. Given Sidra Medicine’s unique positioning as both a children’s specialist hospital and state of the art research institution, we will be leading the first effort of its kind in Qatar — to build a national clinical and bio-sample resource to serve the local autism community.”

The study will be conducted in an academic collaboration with the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto Canada; an organisation currently leading the way in researching the genetics of Autism. Through this collaboration, autism research in Qatar will additionally benefit from SickKids’ partnership with the Autism Speaks MSSNG Whole Genome Sequencing Project (MSSNG) — a ground-breaking open-science based collaboration platform between Autism Speaks, Google and the research community.

Professor Stephen Scherer, Director of the Centre for Applied Genomics, SickKids and Research Director of the MSSNG project, said, “Autism affects people worldwide. For us to fully understand it, we need to study families worldwide. The new genomic data from the QNRF-funded Baraka study will help researchers in Qatar, and many others globally.”