Qatar: A new leader in diabetes research


Researchers at Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) have made a major breakthrough in diabetes research through the development of specialized stem cells. Laboratory tests have shown that stem cells can be used to secrete insulin and control blood sugar levels. Individuals who suffer from diabetes have high blood sugar levels due to the inability of the pancreas to produce sufficient insulin. They have no choice but to manage the disease on a daily basis, spending time, money and energy on diabetic supplies such as Accu-Chek Aviva test strips.

This discovery marks the initial step in a new treatment for diabetes. It is also major milestone for Qatar in their efforts to become a world leader in diabetic research. The executive director of QBRI, Dr. Abdelali Haoudi who also participated in the stem cell study, said that research in this area was still in its early stages.

QBRI was instituted in 2012 as a segment of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. Their goal is to provide public education to raise awareness of healthy lifestyles and improve the quality of life. The program is also aimed at furthering research and development in a number of areas. The country has allotted an annual sum of 2.8 percent of its GDP to fund the program. This is expected to continue through the year 2030. The QBRI had been proposed some time ago but consultants say it has taken some time to implement due to the bureaucracy of the area.

The QBRI plans to concentrate on research and treatment methodologies for diabetes and cancer for the first five years of its operation. Each year, the QBRI will receive $50 billion dollars in funding. They expect to hire 40 to 50 additional scientists to participate in the research each year. The research and development team will collaborate with the current chair of medicine at Imperial College in London, Professor Philippe Froguel. Professor Froguel has been involved in extensive research on diabetes and obesity and is the scientific director of genomic medicine and systems biology at Imperial College. QBRI is involved in several different areas of research including genetic causes of diabetes, the link between diabetes and cancer and the high number of gestational diabetes cases among Arab women.

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC) have been produced from a variety of adult and fetal somatic cells through a number of unconventional methods. Pluripotent stem cells provide an infinite and scalable physiologically medium for experiments. They allow researchers to construct models where human diseases can be reproduced, observed and studied. It also provides an environment for genetic research and drug screening on a cellular level. The application for engineered stem cells in biomedical treatments is of major interest. Many researchers assert their value in regenerative medicine. Pluripotent stem cells may provide replacement cells in cellular transplantation methodologies. The ability of pluripotent stem cell models to accurately represent the effects of pathological organisms and drugs on the human body is still being evaluated.

Over the past decade, a great deal of research has been performed that concludes adult stem cells, progenitor cells, and their differentiated cell types are useful in regenerative therapies. However, the effectiveness and safety of such procedures when implemented within the human body is yet to be proven. Much clinical evaluation remains to explore the actual interactions of pluripotent stem cells within the physiological systems of the body. The Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research Center (SCRMRC) of QBRI uses advanced technologies to support the establishment of translational research on pluripotent stem cells and tissue specific stem cells. The primary focus of the SCRMRC is to generate stem cell models for preclinical research on diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

The SCRMRC, as part of the QBRI, preforms translational research for the purpose of creating prospective human induced pluripotent stem cell models to study the effects of disease. They also design regenerative medicine techniques that incorporate pluripotent stem cells or adult stem cells. The SCRMRC cellular models used to identify and assess treatments for human diseases as well.

Dr. Haoudi stated that the first clinical trial for the treatment of diabetes with stem cells is expected to begin in six months at Hamad Hospital. He further added that the stem cell research was ongoing at both the clinical laboratories in Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar and Qatar Science and Technology Park. The stem cell treatment will be the “first of its kind” in therapies for diabetes. He believes this research will lead the initiative for treatment of many other diseases with stem cells. Dr. Haoudi anticipates the developments of the QBRI to lead the way for treatments of rare diseases for people around the world at Hamad Hospital and the forthcoming Sidra Medical and Research Centre.”

Dr. Froguel and Dr. Nagy Habib, the scientific director of Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research Centre, confirmed that the first priority of the stem cell research in Qatar was the treatment of diabetes and then cancer. Dr. Habib stated that a clinical trial protocol had been established in collaboration with Imperial College London. He also said that the QBRI scientists had convened with the Supreme Council of Health officials for ethics for approval of clinical trial in Doha. Dr. Habib remarked on the benefits of stem cell treatment, observing that they would eliminate the need for insulin injections commonly administered to diabetic patients. It would make medication obsolete as well. Stem cells used to treat diabetes can be acquired from the patient’s blood or from any external donor.

Dr. Froguel’s work is primarily focused on genetic testing of younger patients in Qatar who suffer from obesity and diabetes. He stated that successful genetic testing for diabetes would enable patients to be cured of diabetes, eliminating the need for Accu-Chek test strips and other diabetic supplies. An inexpensive method of screening genes has been developed, and Dr. Froguel said he expects that it will be implemented within the next three months. Dr. Habib hopes that stem cell treatments for diabetes will be available for patients at Qatari hospitals within the next two years. He stated that at present, stem cell treatments only lasted six months. Researchers continue efforts to increase their longevity. Dr. Habib said their goal is for the stem cells to last a year or longer. Stem cells have the potential to treat many diseases. They can be deposited in essentially any part of the body to meet a variety of needs.

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