Described as the first-of-its-kind in the Middle East, a study titled Qatari Birth Cohort (QBiC) is currently being conducted by Qatar Biobank, part of Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation.
The salient feature is that environmental protocols have been set up to understand gene-environment interactions associated with health impact. A total of 216 pregnant women have been observed as part of the study until now.
The aim is to examine how factors such as the environment, genetics, nutrition, and social aspects may affect their baby’s health. Preliminary findings show that 7% of the women are overweight, 37% have gestational diabetes, 20% have a thyroid dysfunction, 10% have reported a psychological illness, and 9% were diagnosed with hypertension.
“There have been smaller studies completed or ongoing in the Middle East area with a small number of participants, but nothing that is as holistic as ours,” said Dr Eleni Fthenou, a scientist at Qatar Biobank.
The QBiC study, now in its pilot phase, has also recruited 76 fathers-to-be. The target is to recruit 3,000 families – mothers, fathers, and children – and follow the journey of the child until they are five years old.
One of the main strengths of the study will be the large number of participants. The data collected from this large study sample will allow for research on multiple outcomes.
“The QBiC study aims at in-depth investigation of the impact of genome-exposure synergy in the establishment of adverse birth outcomes and chronic diseases development,” Dr Fthenou said.
The research team at Qatar Biobank has developed well-designed protocols for data collection with a focus to get harmonised data for future collaborations with other international birth cohorts.
Though Arab genomes are severely under-represented in genomic studies globally, Qatar, through its various initiatives, is putting Arab genome on the map of genomic research and science, and therefore the QBiC study has a large Arab population sample.
“In the QBiC study, we have 31 nationalities at the moment. We recruit Qataris and long-term residents – those who have been living in Qatar for 15 years or more. Qataris represent 28% of the sample population, while long-term Arab residents are at 54% and other nationalities stand at 18%,” according to Dr Fthenou.
In the second phase, the team is expected to collect data from newborns and toddlers, with mothers also being tracked with their babies in the first month after delivery.
“We will get data such as whether the mother is breastfeeding – what type of breastfeeding (exclusive or predominant); we will have the mother checked for postpartum depression; and follow-up on the baby at six months, one year, two years, and finally at four years,” Dr Fthenou noted.
All the collected data will be associated with multiple health outcomes at different timepoints. “The study will allow us to assess how various types of environmental exposures co-exist. Novel tools and methods will be implemented to obtain estimates of individual environmental exposures, including outdoor and indoor air pollution,” the scientist added.
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