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WCRI scientist co-leads human genome database project in the Middle East

By Sarah Warr

With the completion of the human genome project in 2003, several genome databases have been made available worldwide yet, all of these databases lack representation from many ethnic groups including populations living in the Middle East. To address this gap, Dr. Mohammad R. Akbari, scientist and director of the Research Molecular Genetic Laboratory at Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI), is co-leading a new genetic database project in the Middle East called Iranome.

Iranome is a human genome variation database of eight major ethnic groups that live in Iran and other neighbouring countries in the Middle East. The database is the first of its kind for this population of approximately 500 million people. These individuals represent a region expected to have rapid population growth in the near future.

Iranome was developed in collaboration with Dr. Hossein Najmabadi, director, Genetics Research Centre at the University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Services. To create the database, whole exome sequencing was performed on 800 individuals from the eight major ethic groups in Iran including Arabs, Azeris (Turks), Balochs, Kurds, Lurs, Persians, Persian Gulf Islanders, and Turkmen.

“Many genetic variations are ethnicity-specific and need representation in DNA mutation databases in order to build a complete picture of the human genome,” notes Dr. Akbari, assistant professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. “Individuals of Middle Eastern decent will now potentially have improved access to new genetic technologies and associated medical advances based on their unique genetic variations.”

The project investigators hope that Iranome will help realize the potential of precision medicine to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of certain disorders in this underrepresented population. More information on the project and the complete database can be accessed online at www.iranome.com.

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