Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment. 

Said Ismail is a PhD graduate from the University of Oxford with more than 20 years of experience of molecular biology and genetics, with research focusing on the screening of disease related mutations in the Arab population. 

Said Ismail

Dr. Said Ismail, Qatar Genome Program Manager,
Qatar Foundation

Most of you might know him for speaking at Festival of Genomics, or for his work managing the Qatar Genome Program. The Qatar Genome Program is different from other disease-based projects in being a population-based initiative utilising the deeply phenotyped samples collected by Qatar Biobank, an ambitious initiative to deliver the benefits of precision medicine to the region, while simultaneously identifying different gene variations that are unique to the region.

What are you working on right now?

We’re currently about to conclude the pilot phase of the Qatar Genome Project (QGP). For the last 18 months, we’ve been working really hard with all of our partners and in parallel on the various building blocks of our comprehensive plan. Soon we would have sequenced around 6,000 whole genomes from deeply phenotyped Qatar Biobank samples which were sequenced locally by our strategic partners, the Sidra medical and research centre. To analyse sequences and phenotypes, we’ve launched a network of over 90 local researchers along with their international collaborators. In addition, we’ve conducted two large scale national surveys on genomic medicine, one targeting the general public and the other targeting health care professionals. We’ve also initiated two MSc programs in partnership with two local universities, HBKU and Qatar University, in Genomic Medicine and Genetic counselling, respectively. There are other initiatives that we’ve worked on in the pilot phase, and we’re excited about what has achieved so far.   

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?

Getting into the next phase of the project where we are supposed to expand our operations as well as embark on new initiatives and partnerships.

Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.

New NGS platforms bringing down the cost of whole genome sequencing even further, and making it more affordable to labs and individuals in lower income countries.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am so proud to be part of the Qatar Genome Project, a leading program making Qatar and the region part of the international genomics scene.

I also take pride from my previous career in academia where I hope I’ve at least partially helped so many young local students to get excited about the field. Many of them actually ended up in top universities around the world.   

Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?

I’m sure others before me have gone through the whole list of living or dead famous and privileged scientists. So I will invite those “nameless” scientists working in developing countries around the world struggling with lack of funding, infrastructure, and other resources, but still go every day into their labs and lecture theatres trying to make a difference. Of course the bill will be huge as there are so many to be invited.

What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

It’s surely going to be about efficient time management and striking a balance between hard work and social life.

Want to spend more time with Said? Read the profile interview here.


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Opinions and views expressed in The Short Read are the interviewee’s and not those of the home institution