In this issue of the newsletter, we will be highlighting the research being carried out by the Special Services Facility at DDI, led by Dr. Mohamed Abu-Farha.

Dr. Mohamed Abu-farha

Head of the Special Services Facility

Dr. Mohamed Abu-Farha is a Scientist II and the Head of the Special Services Facility at DDI. With over 40 publications in peer-reviewed journals relating to diabetes and obesity, he was recognized as a scholar of the Canadian Natural Science and Engineering Research Council during his PhD and post-Doctoral studies, conducted at the University of Ottawa and the Montreal Institute of Clinical Research, respectively. Prior to that, Mohamed Abu-Farha completed his Honors BSc and MSc degrees in Biochemistry and Biotechnology at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

His PhD research at the University of Ottawa led to the discovery of a novel histone lysine methyltransferase protein called SMYD2. This protein is an enzyme that modify histone proteins by adding methyl groups that will be recognized by the transcription machinery to regulate gene expression level. He used both genomic and proteomic approaches to understand the molecular roles of SMYD2. Furthermore, he showed that SMYD2 acts as a H3K4 methyltransferase in the presence of HSP90α and acts as a H3K36 methyltransferase in the absence of HSP90α. Gene expression studies indicated that the SMYD2 gain of function in vitro leads predominantly to up-regulation of gene expression. He also showed that SMYD2 binds to p53, which was recently found to be methylated by SMYD2.

During his work at DDI, he was involved in multiple projects investigating the role of various biomarkers in obesity and diabetes, as part of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department, headed by Dr. Jehad Abu-Baker. His focus for the past few years has been the role of betatrophin (a hormone that is produced by liver and adipocytes) in type 2 4 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. This work has shown that the production of betatrophin was higher in obese patients and those with type 2 diabetes. In a recent paper highlighted in this issue, the team showed that individuals with sleep apnea also have a higher level of betatrophin, which puts these individuals at an increased risk for developing diabetes and cardiovascular complications (Figure 4). In collaboration with the Department of Genetics and Bioinformatics, headed by Prof. Fahd Al-Mulla, Dr. Abu-Farha and colleagues have also identified mutations within the betatrophin gene that were associated with higher blood sugar levels in the Kuwaiti population.

Dr. Abu-Farha and colleagues have been recognized as pioneers in the field of betatrophin, with over ten papers in internationally recognized journals related to its role in diabetes and obesity, as well as one accepted patent and two other pending patents. Currently, they are investigating the role of betatrophin in the development of diabetes-related complications such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes nephropathy within the population of Kuwait.