MBRU Scientists Play Key Role in Shaping Dubai’s COVID-19 Response

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Comprehensive viral genomic studies yielded valuable information on transmission, mutation, and disease severity

Several studies from the research program have been published in international peer-reviewed journals

Dubai: A team of scientists from Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) played a notable role in supporting Dubai’s response to COVID-19 through crucial viral genomic surveillance research.

Professor Alawi Alsheikh-Ali, Deputy Director General, Dubai Health Authority, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Group for the Dubai COVID-19 Command and Control Center, and Member of MBRU’s Board of Trustees

Scientists from MBRU collaborated with scientists from the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the Genomic Center in Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital (Al Jalila Children’s) to understand how the virus mutates when passed from person to person over weeks and months and examined its genomic ‘fingerprint’ to track the origin, spread, and possible mutations of the virus within a population. The studies contributed to shaping Dubai’s data-driven approach to managing the pandemic.

The team developed a scalable, cost-effective method for large-scale genomic surveillance of the virus, which demonstrated high accuracy in identifying the origin and distinguishing modes of transmission in Dubai and the UAE. The team also mapped the origin and timing of introductions of COVID-19 during the early stage of the pandemic, including early geographical clusters. 

The study also shed light on how host factors such as age, gender, and underlying health conditions, combined with specific mutations of the virus might affect disease severity. 

Additionally, the research team also identified how cells function in patients with severe COVID-19 that can be used to predict disease outcomes in those patients and allow healthcare professionals to tailor the intensity of medical treatment.

The results of multiple studies that together made up the viral genomic surveillance research program have now been published in several international peer-reviewed journals, providing the academic and medical community with valuable reference material. 

Full genome sequences of the virus from Dubai were shared with the global scientific community, delivering critical insights to assist the world’s battle with the disease, providing particularly crucial information on the spread of the virus globally and specifically in Europe.

Professor Alawi Alsheikh-Ali, Deputy Director General, Dubai Health Authority, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Group for the Dubai COVID-19 Command and Control Center, and Member of MBRU’s Board of Trustees, said: “Scientific research is a highly prized resource that has informed, and guided Dubai’s measured and balanced response to the pandemic. Collaboration with leading academic and medical institutions in Dubai was key, highlighting the value of an integrated academic health system.” 

Dr. Ahmad Abou Tayoun, Director of Genomics Center, Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital, Associate Professor of Genetics, MBRU, said: “This research was instrumental in tracing origins of the virus early on in the UAE, identifying problem areas, and providing vital inputs on the scale, intensity, and scope of the response to the pandemic. Given Dubai’s geographic position and role as a bridge between the East and the West, the findings of our research have also helped calibrate and tweak frontline strategies in the global response to the pandemic.”