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LAU professor awarded over $1 million grant to study diabetes

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Dr. Pierre Zalloua, an internationally recognized geneticist and assistant dean for research at LAU's Medical School, was awarded a grant of over $1 million, by the Qatar National Research Fund to research susceptibility genes for Type II (Adult-Onset) Diabetes in the Middle East.

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"Type II Diabetes is very rampant in this part of the world, mainly because we've changed drastically our lifestyles over the last 50 years making it very difficult for our genes to adapt," Zalloua says.

July 12, 2010—

Dr. Pierre Zalloua, an internationally recognized geneticist and assistant dean for research at LAU’s Medical School, was awarded a grant of over $1 million by the Qatar National Research Fund last month to identify susceptibility genes for Type II (Adult-Onset) Diabetes, a rapidly spreading disease afflicting the Middle East.

Zalloua will be working with a research team from LAU in collaboration with Dr. Hatem El Shanti, director of the Shafallah Medical Genetics Center in Qatar, over the grant’s three-year duration with an ultimate goal of preventing the spread of the disease in the region.

“Type II Diabetes is very rampant in this part of the world, and the main reason for that is because we’ve changed drastically our lifestyles over the last 50 years making it very difficult for our genes to adapt,” Zalloua says.

The two main lifestyle changes that are responsible for the disease’s spread, Zalloua explains, are the sudden decrease in exercise, and the shift in diets, which used to be rich in vegetables and low in fats and carbohydrates. A third, less significant, cause is the increase in stress.

“In the past, we used to walk to the market and to work, we had a lot less cars than we do today, so people were a lot more mobile, and our genes were adapted to the fact that there was not a lot of food available,” Zalloua says.

“And now all of a sudden, we have a lot of food stored in our bodies and we’re not walking anymore, we’re not exercising. We’re spending 24 hours a day either sleeping or on a chair behind a screen,” he adds.

Identifying susceptibility genes for Type II Diabetes will allow doctors to target individuals predisposed to the disease and deliver a clear message: avoid certain triggers such as having bad eating habits, and not exercising, or else you’re going to get diabetes.

“Those genes are not necessarily bad, but they are adapted to a certain environment,” Zalloua says. “We have to mimic that environment again, and the way to do that is fairly simple: exercise.”

Zalloua believes he was awarded the grant because of his proposal’s unique, hands-on approach to the problem.

The research team will visit villages throughout the region and meet with couples that have been living together for decades and that lead similar lifestyles, in order to find a correlation between their genes, habits, and the disease.

Zalloua says the Middle East is conducive to carrying out their research because of an aging population that has been living together for a much longer time than people from other regions of the world.

“This is something we can do, but nobody else can, because of our easy access to these people who live in rural areas,” he adds.

In an email last month announcing that Zalloua had received the grant, Dr. Kamal Badr, founding dean of LAU’s School of Medicine, noted that the research topic is in line with the school’s mission to foster “regionally relevant translational research.”

“Type II Diabetes is one of the most fast-spreading and devastating diseases affecting the populations of Lebanon, Qatar, and the entire Gulf region. Its prevalence is expected to reach nearly 50 percent in some of the Gulf countries over the next decade,” Badr wrote.

He added: “Coupled to his [Zalloua’s] existing grant on cardiovascular disease awarded by the European Commission, the grant [for the study of Type II Diabetes] will constitute a firm basis for the basic science component of the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease Center, which the School of Medicine is establishing at LAU and its affiliated clinical training sites, principally the University Medical Center - Rizk Hospital and the clinical research consortium being developed through the LAU Institute for Human Genetics (headed by Dr. Zalloua) at Rafic Hariri University Hospital, Clemenceau Medical Center, and other medical centers and hospitals in Lebanon.”

“I am not surprised that you landed this important grant from the Qatar National Research Fund. Hard and smart work always pays off. Dedication to one’s research and scholarship will always be noticed and always rewarded, no matter what the challenges are,” wrote LAU President Dr. Joseph Jabbra, in an email message to the LAU community.

Jabbra added: “I am sure you will, with your Qatari collaborators, bring this important project to successful completion for the benefit of our entire region.”

Established in 2006, QNRF’s stated mission is to provide support to researchers within academia and throughout public and private partnerships.


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