Spurring Medical Innovation…. The Thumbay Institute of Precision Medicine and Translational Research

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Health met with Dr. P. K. Menon, director of the Thumbay Institute of Precision Medicine and Translational Research (TIPMTR) who reveals cutting edge Diagnostic and research innovations within precision medicine that will Enable future wellness and optimal health.

Overview
With a focus on two main research areas – diabetes and cancer, researchers at this Institute focus on the importance of tailoring treatment protocols specifically for each patient according to their own unique personal genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Additionally, TIPMTR will serve as a central hub for researchers, clinicians, faculty and students interested in medical research. It also serves as a platform for innovation startup companies to launch innovative products and services.

The Infrastructure
Dr. Menon joined the university around four and a half years ago and explains that the vision of the Founder Mr. Thumbay Moideen is to convert the Gulf Medical University into a world class research based university. He adds, “We planned a strategy and after a lot of meticulous planning and focus group meetings with a lot of specialist physicians, we realized there was no advanced
lab in the region. In fact, the majority of advanced tests were being sent overseas. More importantly, there was no skilled manpower to do these super specialty tests.” Thus the Center for Advanced Biomedical Research and Innovation (CABRI) was inaugurated in 2014.

The Vision
In the beginning of 2016, Dr. Menon explains that Founder President Mr. Thumbay Moideen was the key to initiate the setting up of an advanced medical innovation center. When Gulf Medical University’s new Chancellor, Professor Hossam Hamdy joined, he envisaged the change of name from CABRI to ‘Thumbay Institute of Precision Medicine and Translational Research’. To define the term ‘Precision Medicine’, Dr. Menon highlights an example: “Treatment of heart disease may require different medications, one of which is Warfarin which works as a blood thinner. All of us have a different and unique metabolism and we process drugs differently. If the Overview With a focus on two main research areas – diabetes and cancer, researchers at this Institute focus on the importance of tailoring treatment protocols specifically for each patient according to their own unique personal genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Additionally, TIPMTR will serve as a central hub for researchers, clinicians, faculty and students interested in medical research. It also serves as a platform for innovation startup companies to launch innovative products and services.

Sept/Oct 2017 28 metabolism of Warfarin is fast, the blood will not thin enough and the danger of clotting remains. On the other hand, if the metabolism is slow, the blood will continue to thin to the point that the patient may bleed uncontrollably. In precision medicine, what you do is try to pinpoint exactly the genotype of each patient so that the dosage of Warfarin (or any other medicine) can be planned accurately, depending on the genotype of the patient. In precision medicine, thus we now have the precise tools for a more superior and precise diagnostic focus.”

Big Areas of Concern
The team at TIPMTR focuses on the major health concerns facing the UAE for which Dr. Menon explains, “Diabetes was a big area which required its own designated diagnostic and research lab. Inborn Errors of Metabolism (IEM) in newborn babies were only being screened for 6 or 7 diseases at birth whereas internationally, typically the baby is screened for around 50 diseases. So we set up an advanced lab for IEM screening.”

He continues, “Another thrust area of focus was research on hemoglobin disorders which are prevalent here, so subsequently, we set up an advanced hemoglobin analysis lab. Then there was the problem of pregnant women not being screened for carrying a baby with chromosomal disorders such as Down’s syndrome, so we set up a lab for the early detection of these kinds of chromosomal disorders. We already had a histopathology lab, but we augmented it. We also set up a cytogenetics lab, which is the only CAP approved lab in this region. Then there was the issue of allergies as many kids were coming with chronic cold and cough symptoms which are actually allergic disorders. For this also, we set up the lab which has been functioning well.”

Life Changing
TIPMTR is an extremely scientific and focused diagnostic precision medical institute and Dr. Menon stresses that this is a very niche emerging area for research and diagnosis. He documents a recent case study of a family from Dubai, “Their child was exhibiting severe skin rash. We did a blood test which resulted in an IgE reading that was extremely high at 10K IU; in fact, one of the highest I have ever seen. Once we tested the child, we then sat with the parents to find out about daily habits. We learnt that this family was vegetarian and then we set out to test for different combinations of vegetables. When one combination tested positive, we tested for sub-components within this combination. When we narrowed it down, the result was the child was allergic to tomatoes.”

Advanced Tests
This Institute is in fact, the only lab with the infrastructure and manpower to run specialized gene testing, stem cells research, and  advanced super specialty testing. Dr. Menon adds, “We can do about 1800 tests and are in fact, the only lab in this region equipped to do these kinds of cutting edge and very advanced diagnostic tests in-house. Moreover, over the next couple of years, I am hoping to augment research teaching and training; we already have a Master’s Program and are going to augment this training also.”

Future Plans
With such an advanced infrastructure already in place, Dr. Menon points out that their aim, for the next four to five years, is to collaborate extensively with national and international workers in the areas of national interest which includes diabetes, oncology, hemoglobinopathies and genetic disorders. He elaborates, “As scientists and researchers, our role is to disseminate scientific and evidence based facts with high quality diagnostic testing. The institute also aims to boost medical innovation and provide a platform for medical scientists, healthcare researchers, and medical scientists in the region, to enable collaborations and partnerships with international institutions, such as Gustave Roussy from Paris, Wisconsin Medical University, USA, leading universities from Italy, Bahrain, and Switzerland, pharma companies and the overall healthcare industry.”

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