Imagine being given advanced warning as to how you might be likely to die, along with advice on what you could do to prevent it.
That is the power of genome sequencing. And while the rapidly developing technology cannot make you immortal, it could help us all live healthier for longer.
By knowing not only if a patient is likely to develop diabetes or cancer, but what drugs will be most effective for recovery based on their DNA, doctors will have the power to transform the way health care is delivered.
Home DNA testing is now available in a Dh999 ($272) saliva sampling kit provided by the Dante Labs' ‘Genetic for Everybody’ project.
Once collected at the Silicon Oasis laboratory, the DNA contained in the saliva is analysed to create a full report.
Results can determine predispositions of the body, from potential illness to muscular and bone constitution.
The comprehensive analysis gives a clear view of metabolic and injury susceptibility, food intolerances and even the most suitable skincare routine, packed inside a unique genetic profile.
Andrea Riposati, group chief executive of Dante Genomics, said the technology has the potential to transform health care.
“Genomics is at a similar stage to when the internet was first launched,” he said.
“It was first used by just a few people but would go on to change the world within a few years. The beauty of genomics is transforming the science into individual benefits and saving lives.
“It can personalise how we eat and train to tailor our lives to live longer and healthier. People can use genomics not when they are sick, but before they get sick.”
The $6 million laboratory, which opened in January, has the capacity to analyse up to 1,000 samples a week but is currently processing about 300.
Saliva collection kits instruct the user to brush their teeth, then wait 30 minutes without eating, drinking or smoking before spitting into a tube.
Shaking the tube mixes it with a buffer solution, after which it is placed inside the return box provided and collection is arranged via email.
When the sample arrives at the lab, the DNA extraction begins inside a sequencing room known as ‘The Temple’ to technicians. This is where the magic happens.
Sample DNA is turned into data, with one genome providing about 19 gigabytes of genetic information.
A supercomputer analyses that data and produces a report within a minute, creating a person’s genetic health map or biomarkers that could indicate a red flag for potential disease.
Results are compiled into a report and returned securely via encrypted email within two to four weeks.
“The challenge is transforming this massive amount of genomic data into genomic information which is easy to understand but also scientifically validated,” said Mr Riposati.
“You don’t need to be a doctor to interpret the results.
“Currently, people visit a doctor when they are sick and that can be too late in some cases.
“This kind of test is like an insurance. By knowing what kind of drugs you will respond well to, physicians have more clarity of a course of treatment to deliver.
“It is about getting a better knowledge about your own health.”
Data securely stored and anonymous
The data is encrypted and anonymised, with personal information isolated in a separate database to the genetic data so there is no chance of identification.
Genomic sequencing and DNA extraction could solve one of the biggest puzzles facing mankind — how to deal with antimicrobial resistance.
With the knowledge of the antibiotics someone is most likely to respond to, medics can deliver the most effective treatment — rather than spin the wheel in the hope of finding an antibiotic that will destroy a bacterial infection.
Genes control the production of enzymes that metabolise drugs when we are ill. These enzymes influence how effective a drug could be, or what side effects may appear.
Our unique genotype reveals the volume of enzymes produced to break down medicine so it can be more easily absorbed.
It is only one of the many ways genetic information can be harnessed to improve healthcare decisions.
In April, Dante Labs was selected as the genetic testing provider for the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre (ADSCC), where scientists will focus on cell therapy and regenerative medicine.
A joint programme was created to develop an mRNA vaccine platform to identify individual cancer treatments.
Emirati Genome Programme
The nation’s Emirati Genome Programme is one of the world’s most ambitious.
It will explore the genetic make-up of Emiratis, using DNA sequencing and artificial intelligence to generate comprehensive, high-quality genomic data.
The resulting reference genome will pave the way for more personalised and preventive healthcare delivery for UAE citizens.
Sequencing takes place at the G42 Healthcare Omics Centre of Excellence in Masdar City.
“We see the Emirates becoming more of a powerhouse and global hub for this kind of research,” said Mr Riposati.
“In the last 18 months, the sequencing of different Covid variants has really brought genomics to the forefront.
“People have reacted differently to Covid and to the vaccines, which has shown how our genetic make-up impacts the way we respond to different triggers.”