Sidra Medicine Wins Substantial JDRF Research Grant


Grant to Support Type 1 Diabetes Autoantibody and Genetic Screenings in Qatar

12 September 2023, Doha, QatarSidra Medicine (a member of Qatar Foundation) has been awarded a grant, to the value of one million US dollars from JDRF, the leading global type 1 diabetes (T1D) research and advocacy organization. The awarded grant will support the establishment of a program in Qatar that combines autoantibody and genetic screening for children with T1D.

Titled "DIA-MENA: Type 1 Diabetes Islet Autoantibody Screening Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa”, the program will initially pilot autoantibody and genetic screenings in Qatar, aiming to predict the future risks of T1D in children. The pilot will form the basis to establish national pediatric T1D autoantibody screenings across the country; which can serve as a model for the rest of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.


The awarded grant, which was won by Dr. Ammira Al-Shabeeb Akil, lead principal investigator and head of the Precision Medicine for Diabetes Prevention lab at Sidra Medicine, will encompass a comprehensive research-based screening program over the span of four years. Key support will be provided by Sidra Medicine’s precision medicine program, pathology, genetics and genomic medicine clinics.

According to the International Diabetes Federation’s Diabetes Atlas, Qatar is ranked fourth globally with the highest incidence of T1D. Currently there is a lack of screening studies on T1D in Qatar and generally in the MENA region, that comprehensively covers data on computed genetic risk scores in association with islet autoantibody status in the general population.

“Most global screening initiatives to identify children at high risk of developing T1D have targeted relatives of individuals living with the disease. However, latest data shows that more than 85 per cent of the children who end up with T1D, do not have affected relatives with the same disease. By combining the comprehensive islet autoantibodies and genetic risk scores testing, we intend to detect and provide estimates of the prevalence of early-stage T1D in children,” said Dr. Akil.

Jay Tinklepaugh, PhD, JDRF Scientist said: “Expanding global screening efforts to identify individuals at risk for T1D is a key focus and high priority area for JDRF. Screening programs such as this are immensely important and can play a role in decreasing the near- and long-term risks of diabetic ketoacidosis, increasing overall participation in clinical research, and identifying individuals who would benefit most from preventive therapies once they are approved. JDRF is excited to support Sidra Medicine’s screening initiative and the opportunity it presents to accelerate identification of people at risk for developing or who have type 1 diabetes.”

Through the JDRF grant and in partnership with the Qatar Genome Program and the Primary Health Care Corporation, Dr. Akil’s team will embark on a combined screening pilot program on young children from the ages of 1 ½ years to 14 years old; using a small blood sample and pathology-based testing technology that has been developed in-house at Sidra Medicine by Dr. Akil’s team.

Dr. Khalid Fakhro, Chief Research Officer at Sidra Medicine said, “I am very proud of Sidra Medicine’s scientists in leading such ground-breaking studies in the region and being recognized by international research foundations like JDRF. Establishing the foundation of T1D national screening will have an

immediate and long-term impact on patients in Qatar and worldwide. It will serve as the basis for pre-diabetes screening in the general pediatric and young adult population in Qatar and act as a model approach for the rest of region and beyond. In the long term, robust screening programs can help with early detection before the onset of symptoms, and make our patients eligible for approved disease-modifying treatments or to take part in clinical trials in the future.”

By determining the individuals most likely to develop T1D, the DIA-MENA program will also become the focal point in guiding future clinical trials in Qatar. The clinical trials usually include potential drugs and therapeutics that may completely change the treatment and management of the disease, either by restoring the insulin producing cells in the pancreas or by preventing the progression of clinical form of T1D.

Dr. Akil concluded, “This award also highlights that Qatar and Sidra Medicine’s specialist children’s services and technologies are in a strong position to make such programs a reality. In fact, for the first time, the autoantibody testing and results interpretation will be carried out at Sidra Medicine, as currently patient samples are sent abroad for testing. Early risk identification for T1D can help avoid life-threatening complications, develop preventative therapies and allow patient families and doctors to create a plan for ongoing monitoring to prevent an unanticipated emergency diagnosis.”