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EGYPTIAN GENES

Setting the foundation for the future of health care in Egypt

HASSAN EL-FAWAL
PROFESSOR OF BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES
DEAN, SCHOOL OF SCIENCES AND ENGINEERING
FOUNDING DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE OF GLOBAL
HEALTH AND HUMAN ECOLOGY

Setting the foundation for the future of health care in Egypt

The Inspiration

My specific research area is environmental health, with a particular focus on developing diagnostic tests for a range of conditions. But I’ve always had a broad interest in breaking down barriers that impede meaningful progress for humanity. One such example is our focus on precision health to arrive at a gene-environment model within the demographic and socioeconomic context. One project we’re keen on now, in collaboration with colleagues — most notably Mohamed Salama, physician and clinical neurotoxicologist who recently joined AUC as associate professor at the Institute of Global Health and Human Ecology — and international partners, is establishing a reference genome for Egypt. This is an essential first step in identifying unique vulnerabilities of the population to communicable and non-communicable diseases. In that regard, it is a mission that satisfies both the interests of protecting environmental health and early disease diagnosis.

El-Fawal with faculty researchers Ahmed Moustafa, associate professor of bioinformatics; Mohamed Salama, associate professor at the Institute of Global Health and Human Ecology; and Anwar Abdelnaser, assistant professor of environmental health

The Process

We’re collaborating with a number of institutions in Europe and the Middle East. It’s a vast, interdisciplinary project that requires the team efforts of medical health professionals, biomedical scientists and engineers, as well as the expertise of colleagues in the social sciences. In one way, we’re doing what every good research project does: defining gaps in our knowledge, asking the relevant questions, designing an adaptable approach, running tests, analyzing big data and refining our methods. But we’re doing these things at the most advanced level and with diverse expertise.

The Next Steps

A complete database that reflects the efforts of researchers and practitioners across Egypt will inform the country’s health policy and its management of health care and will establish AUC as an enabling partner for researchers in Egypt. Not at all coincidentally, AUC has developed two graduate programs — a master’s and doctorate in global public health — that focus on these issues. The graduate programs, in turn, are part of our new Institute of Global Health and Human Ecology, which is designed to address worldwide challenges: food scarcity, environmental degradation, burgeoning populations, the spread of diseases associated with industrial development and much more.

The IMPACT

The reference genome for Egypt will provide a database for comparative studies and a repository for shared information on the genetic basis of health and disease to advance personalized medicine and health care among the Egyptian population. It will empower researchers and clinicians to better identify risk — diagnosing diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative conditions and heart disease — while mitigating risk or customizing treatment. Simply put, it is the future of health care in Egypt that should inform policy.

The Future

AUC recently celebrated its centennial. To me, this project — as well as the Institute of Global Health and Human Ecology — represents the dawn of our second century of service. It’s about working together across borders, across disciplines in a spirit of progress and collaboration to find solutions.

Read about the Institute of Global Health and Human Ecology.

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