Posted on November 27, 2019

Qatar’s knowledge in healthcare research was showcased at the 16th Science and Technology in Society Forum held recently in Kyoto, Japan, which saw participants from more than 80 countries come together to discuss global challenges arising from advances in science and technology.

Dr. Richard O’Kennedy, Vice President of Research, Development, and Innovation (RDI), Qatar Foundation (QF), in an invited, high-profile plenary session titled Delivering Healthcare to the World, highlighted QF’s globally-respected genomics research efforts, which have positioned Qatar among the world’s pioneering nations in the highly-specialized sphere of precision medicine. “The knowledge generated by the Qatar Genome Programme – which has sequenced over 17,000 whole genomes in Qatar – is paving the way for the development and delivery of personalized treatment for diseases such as diabetes, cancer, autism, and cardiovascular disease,” Dr. O’Kennedy said.

Observing that the unique characteristics of the Arab genome have been typically underrepresented or altogether missing in the broader human genomic data currently available globally, Dr. O’Kennedy added, “The availability of high-quality information on Qatari and Arab genomes will help provide new and deeper insights into diseases and associated risk factors. “It also has the potential to radically enhance diagnoses and greatly improve treatment as well as the delivery of quality healthcare in Qatar and globally; thus providing individuals with the possibility of living longer, healthier, and happier lives.”

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In terms of tackling privacy concerns about genomic data, Dr. O’Kennedy noted that it is imperative to have a global examination of how to safely handle, store, and secure genomic data. “In Qatar, our genomic programshave a very strong level of engagement with the people, who we inform and educate about the importance and long-term value of these specialized healthcare programs. It is the collective responsibility of all stakeholders to maintain this trust and ensure their personal data is fully-secured.”

Highlighting the positive impact of technology in this specialized field of research, Dr. O’Kennedy stated, “Because of rapid technological advancements, I believe that genomic research-based diagnoses and treatments can have a positive influence on the health of every man, woman, and child no matter where they are. It will help develop and drive precision medicine which will facilitate delivering the right dose of a drug, to the right person, at the right time.

“When the genome was first sequenced, it costed hundreds of millions of dollars, now the cost is about $1,000, and trends indicate that it will become significantly cheaper. I think this is where specialized technology development, application, and enhancements can play a major role and that’s what we should be striving for.” Participants at the influential forum discussed challenges and potential solutions through a series of plenary sessions that were presented by world-renowned scientists including several Nobel laureates, policy makers, leading politicians,and industry leaders; and thematic concurrent sessions. The event also offered opportunities to interact through specialized peer meetings and networking.

“The Science and Technology in Society Forum, now in its second decade, is one of the most esteemed platforms for expert discussions tackling complex science and technology-related issues that impact our future,” Dr. O’Kennedy said. “Building on our long-standing association, we continue to leverage this platform to share our experiences, learn from a variety of global models, and strengthen our networks as we all work towards addressing our individual challenges for collective global impact.

“QF RDI will continue being at the forefront of relevant dialogues in science, technology, research, and innovation.”