Biotechnology Center Interns Analyze Thyroid Disease in Emiratis

Dozens of students, professors and guests attended the “End of Summer Internship Program 2019” at Khalifa University’s Main Campus on Thursday, 1 August, 2019, to celebrate the culmination of eight weeks of hard work. The event was a fitting end to KU’s Center for Biotechnology (BTC) Summer Internship Program, which included eleven undergraduate student interns from Khalifa University, the University of Sharjah, New York University, American University of Ras Al-Khaimah, Monash University in Malaysia, and the School of Industrial Biology in France.

Now in its fourth year, the BTC Summer Internship Program offers undergraduate students interested in biotechnology a hands-on learning experience to develop high-quality skills and knowledge needed for working in a molecular genetic laboratory.

Directed by Dr. Habiba Alsafar, Associate Professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology, the BTC undertakes research that increases the understanding of the risk factors that affect major chronic diseases of the UAE population, in particular diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The focus of this year’s internship was a project titled “Genotype and allele frequencies at two variants in two genes (VAV3 and BRAF) associated with Thyroid cancer among UAE population.”

A first-of-its-kind study conducted in an Arab ethnic group, the main objective was to evaluate the genes VAV3 and BRAF in an Emirati population to determine the frequencies of different VAV3 and BRAF genes – which are highly associated with Thyroid cancer in different ethnic groups –  and their relevant genotypes.

“I really enjoyed this experience because, as an international student, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with students and professors from different backgrounds and cultures,” shared Fahad Abbasse, a graduate student pursuing a degree in industrial biology from the Ecole de Biologie Industrielle in France. “Everyone was really friendly and they gave me a warm welcome to the center. Working with state-of-the-art technology in the lab was really rewarding, and made our lab work more enjoyable.”

The BTC interns isolated genomic DNA from saliva samples of 1,000 healthy Emiratis, representing different geographical regions. They then used a sophisticated genotyping process known as “RT-qPCR TaqMan assay” to analyze the allele frequency of two variants in the two different genes VAV3 and BRAF.

The students found that the two variants showed some similarities with the Caucasian population but were different when compared to African and Asian populations.

KU biomedical engineering undergraduate student Dana AlTamimi also enjoyed the experience. She said: “The Biotechnology center internship was one of the best things I ever did. We were exposed to different procedures in the field of research. The internship was very interesting and helpful for my future studies and career.”

Thyroid cancer is a cancer of the gland in front of the neck that normally produces the thyroid hormone, which is important to the normal regulation of the metabolism of the body. Thyroid cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the UAE, accounting for approximately ten percent of all cancers among females. Regionally, thyroid cancer is also the fifth most common cancer in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

A better understanding of genetic polymorphisms, which is when multiple forms of a single gene exists in an individual or group, may contribute to a more accurate identification of avoidable risks associated with thyroid cancer, and to developing tailor-made preventative measures.

Throughout the eight-week internship, students conducted literature reviews using scientific public domain search engine for articles such as, PubMEd, Web of Science, and Scopus; attended a workshop on reference style using Endnote software; analyzed data using a specialized software program called “R Software;” and finally, presented their scientific findings as an oral presentation and a poster at the “End of Summer Internship Program 2019” event, which was held at KU’s Main Campus on Thursday, 1 August.

Erica Solomon
Senior Editor
15 August 2019