More than 100 scientists from 14 countries attended the ‘Translational Systems Biology and Bioinformatics Symposium’ that was held on June 25 at the Qatar National Convention Center. Four international and seven local speakers delivered scientific presentations that addressed different aspects of computational biology, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and bioinformatics at the symposium co-sponsored by Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) and Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), both members of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.
According to top scientists at the symposium, conducting advanced biomedical research on genes, stem cells, proteins, and other chemicals in the human body requires two things that will present major challenges to scientists in Qatar. First, researchers need a wide range of tissue samples from the local population for experimentation. Second, they need powerful, high-throughput computers for analysis and storage of data derived from the tissue samples.
“Collaboration is the key to building a successful translational systems biology research platform in Qatar,” said Dr. Abdelali Haoudi, Vice President of Research and Acting Executive Director of QBRI. “No single university, research institute, hospital, or laboratory by itself can gather the samples, perform the experiments, and analyze the data needed to conduct advanced systems biology research in Qatar. We need to build a consortium that includes all the stakeholders involved in biomedical research—from the doctors and nurses who collect tissue samples to the research laboratories that ‘decipher’ the biological information in those samples.”
Dr. Ahmed Elmagarmid, Executive Director of QCRI, agrees. “Qatar can be a leader in computational medicine if everyone works together,” he said. “Today, tissue samples are analyzed by equipment such as a mass spectrometer, and the digital output is looked at and experimented on using computers. A relatively small number of scientists can perform world-class biomedical research, but it takes a network of clinicians, technicians, statisticians, bioinformaticians and scientists working together to create the biomedical database in the first place.”
Local entities that might participate in a systems biology consortium, such as Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Texas A&M - Qatar, Qatar University, Hamad Medical Corporation, Anti Doping Lab Qatar, Shafallah Medical Genetics Center and Sidra Medical and Research Center, all were represented in the symposium.
International participants such as Dr. Eric Lander of Broad institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard, Dr. Jeremy K. Nicholson of Imperial College London, Dr. David Gifford of MIT, Dr. Prasanna Kolatkar of the Genome Institute of Singapore, and Dr. Amos Bairoch of Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics all expressed enthusiasm for the kinds of research that could be performed in Qatar, looking at the native Qatari population as well as patients in the Arab world in general.
“Most of the genomic research has focused on European and African populations,” said Dr. Eric Lander, one of the keynote speakers at the symposium. “By looking at the genes of Qatari and Arab populations, Qatar can play a huge role in advancing the knowledge in the field of genetics and potentially can develop therapies and drugs that benefit not only the region, but the whole world.”