Dubai wants to DNA sequence the city's population in order to prevent, mitigate, and potentially eradicate diseases in the future.
The city, located in the United Arab Emirates, is launching the scheme as part of the Dubai 10X initiative, a program commanded by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Dubai 10X focuses on developing and implementing technologies expected to be commonplace a decade from now as a way to push Dubai now "as a city of the future."
According to local publication the Khaleej Times, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) officially launched the genome project on Saturday, saying that the sequencing initiative will improve the health of residents.
The project will be conducted over at least 24 months. UAE nationals will be targeted first, with other residents potentially to follow.
Director general of DHA and chairman of the board Humaid Mohammed Al Qatami said that samples will be taken, DNA sequences will be analyzed, and then the results will be recorded in data banks.
The project also includes the creation of an artificial intelligence (AI) system and machine learning (ML) algorithms which will be able to process the results. Qatami said the AI will be able to "issue reports that support research, forecast future disorders and epidemics, and plan preventive measures."
"The labs will establish the first national genetic database for future research, lending support to decision-makers as they set plans and strategies for the future of the healthcare sector," Qatami added. "This, in turn, ensures Dubai's global competitiveness and strengthens the knowledge economy."
The DHA hopes that the DNA database will be used to improve gene scanning technologies, including the detection of genes, chromosomes, and proteins which can lead to disease.
Armed with this information, healthcare professionals may be able to contain medical issues or, going further, the new field of gene editing may come into play to eradicate genetic problems altogether.
According to the project's website, one of the final phases will include "revers[ing] the genetic research process: instead of studying an affected patient's genetics, our AI goes through [the] database, finds out who has been affected, and looks for non-patients with similar genetic profiles [who] are therefore at risk."
The agency claims that this scheme may result in a reduction of the "financial burden" of treating chronic disease and may also play a role in "slowing down the aging process."
Eventually, the database, maps, and sequencing data collected may also be used by pharmaceutical companies to design future drugs.
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The DHA, alongside the Dubai Cord Blood and Research Center (DCRC) and other affiliate organizations, will be conducting the sequencing project.
As we examine gene therapy, mapping, and sequencing in the medical field, it was only a matter of time before a sequencing project appeared on the mass scale. However, it is not known whether contributing DNA will be mandatory or what privacy protections will be in place to protect resident data.