Published on : 7 December 2020

A genetic counselling service has been launched for those worried about their family history or genetic disease.

UAE residents who want to assess their risk of developing certain diseases or diagnose genetic conditions can now do it in Abu Dhabi.

Targeted DNA testing and counselling at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi will give residents access to their family history or genetic disease, thanks to a partnership between the hospital and National Reference Laboratory, both facilities within Mubadala’s network of healthcare providers.

The launch of the genetic counselling service at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi comes as researchers continue to uncover genetic links to diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

The service, jointly operated by the hospital and National Reference Laboratory, offers patients deep, targeted insights into specific areas of their genome in order to assess their risk of developing certain diseases or diagnose genetic conditions. Genetic counsellers work with both patients and their physicians to tailor genetic testing to their specific needs, guided by family history or medical symptoms.

“The introduction of genetic counselling for patients at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is an important step in our continuing mission to improve the overall health of the population. There are clear genetic markers that can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. If we are able to detect the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations linked to breast cancer for example, we can take appropriate steps to manage that risk with some treatments able to reduce their risk by 90 per cent or more,” says Dr Stephen Grobmyer, Chair of the Oncology Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

Once areas of interest are identified, a detailed battery of genetic tests is conducted in partnership with National Reference Laboratory. Physicians hope that, as genetic testing becomes more widespread, it will enable researchers to build a more accurate picture of the health risks the population faces and uncover new treatments.

“The ultimate goal of genetic testing and counselling is risk mitigation and prevention. We employ a highly targeted approach to our testing. This personalised approach means that if a person has a family history of breast cancer, we will look at a gene panel based on their specific case to build a complete picture of their risk profile,” explains Rifaat Rawashdeh, a genetic counseller at National Reference Laboratory who plays a key role in the new service.

Following their tests, patients receive the results during an appointment with their genetic counseller. This provides an opportunity to have the results explained in detail, helping patients understand their level of risk and explore opportunities for preventative care or management of the condition. The appointment also enables the counseller to offer emotional support that might be needed.

“The importance of providing emotional support is often overlooked. Simply receiving test results is not enough, especially given the nuances of genetics. If someone is found to be at greater risk than the general population, we are able to sit with them and explain what that means and what their next steps might be,” continues Rawashdeh.

As direct to consumer testing becomes increasingly popular as a means of determining ancestry and predisposition to certain conditions, the new service’s genetic counsellers are keen to advise residents that without clinically guided and comprehensive testing, the results can be misleading.

“Direct to consumer testing is often very broad and can leave people overwhelmed with information without any support in interpreting the results. That lack of support can lead to both unnecessary anxiety and false reassurance depending on the results,” says Rawashdeh.