The Sixth International Conference on Environmental Mutagens in Human Populations (ICEMHP) officially kicked-off yesterday, bringing together close to 350 attendees and speakers including leading scientists and researchers from the region and around the globe.
The tone of the opening session was set by the inspiring welcome addresses by Dr Mohammad Fathy Saoud, President of Qatar Foundation. Dr Saoud highlighted Qatar Foundation’s role in driving Qatar from a carbon-based to a knowledge-based economy and the various research initiatives that are enabling Qatar to lead scientific discovery in the region. Alluding to the 2006 pledge of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Amir of Qatar, to dedicate 2.8% of national GDP annually to science and research, Dr Saoud pointed out,”This unique dedication of a vast resource has placed Qatar at the forefront of research efforts; complementing Qatar-based developments with international expertise, building networks that can provide homegrown solutions with global repercussions.”
On the particular importance of the conference for the region, Dr Saoud said, ”Despite our focused efforts in this field, there still is a long way to go, as the study of environmental health is still underdeveloped in the Arab world. This conference aims to bring environmental health to the top of the regional research agenda and to benefit the region as global scientific developments and knowledge will be shared and opportunities for networking and further collaboration will be established.”
Dr Wiliam Au, Co-chair of the Conference and Chairman of Shantou University Medical College in China, and Dr Stefano Bonassi, President of the International Association of Environmental Mutagen Societies (IAMS), also welcomed the delegates on behalf of the organizers. Dr Saleh Al Marri, Assistant Secretary General for Medical Affairs of the Supreme Council of Health addressed the conference on behalf of its largest sponsor.
A highlight of the opening session was the keynote presentation by Professor Dr Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn of Thailand, who spoke on the impact of environmental factors causing cancer among the most vulnerable of populations - children. She elaborated on how exposure to environmental factors, such as elevated doses of arsenic in drinking water and harmful compounds in air pollution, contribute to health problems. Drawing on international studies, she highlighted indicative data saying, “Five million children die every year from illnesses that relate directly to environmental conditions and… in the next 10 years, 84 million people will die of cancer and 70% will be in developing world…” On the particular vulnerability of children to environmental DNA damage, she concluded by saying, ”Children are more susceptible than adults to environmental DNA damage and they have lower DNA repair capacity than adults. A clean environment is essential for good health and the development of children. This includes clean water, clean air and a healthy work and home environment.”
Professor William Dab of the French National Institute of Science, Technology and Management and Professor Michel Aubier of Bichat University Hospital in Paris spoke on
new developments and challenges in assessing the effects of pollution on human health and on traffic-related pollution’s effect on respiratory diseases.
In the afternoon, discussions continued in three parallel sessions. The sessions dealt specifically with environmental health concerns in developing countries, biomarkers for human population studies and the basic mechanisms of mutagenesis and carcinogenesis.
During breaks, delegates and visitors reviewed poster presentations of abstracts submitted for the conference. The top three abstracts coming from students or junior investigators will be especially honoured with prizes awarded at the Closing Ceremony of the Sixth ICEMHP on 29 March.