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Moien Kanaan, PhD

Professor, Molecular Genetics
Dean of Science and Director
Hereditary Research Laboratory
Bethlehem University
Palestinian Authority

Current Research

  • Seeking to increase genetic screening in high risk populations in the Middle East and to understand the landscape of inherited genetic risk factors in these diverse populations.

  • Genetic profiling for breast cancer is ongoing, while efforts are also directed at improving infrastructure and resources for genetic testing and counseling.

  • These studies are providing critical information on the inherited risk of breast and ovarian cancer in Middle Eastern women.

The genetic risk of breast cancer among families of Ashkenazi Jewish descent is well characterized by three mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. This makes screening for breast cancer risk very simple and straightforward. Considerably less is known, however, about the inherited risk of breast cancer in other Middle Eastern populations. Dr. Moein Kanaan, in collaboration with BCRF investigators, Drs. Levy-Lahad and King, is leading the first Middle Eastern Cancer Study to increase genetic testing and genetic services for women in this region.

Full Research Summary

Genetic analysis and medical follow-up services for breast and ovarian cancer risk are among the best in the world for Jewish women living in the Middle East. However, until very recently, no such services existed for women of other ancestries in the same region. 

The reasons for this discrepancy were both scientific and infrastructure-related. The scientific reason was that inherited predisposition to breast cancer among Ashkenazi Jewish women is largely explained by three mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, enormously facilitating genomic analysis. In contrast, the spectrum of mutations predisposing to breast cancer among Palestinian and Arab-Israeli women was not known and was likely much broader, requiring far more complex genomics. The infrastructure reason was stark: there was no infrastructure for cancer genetics services for Palestinian families. 

The Middle East Breast Cancer Study (MEBCS), supported entirely by BCRF, is working to resolve these disparities. Jointly conducted by BCRF investigators Drs. Ephrat Levy-Lahad, Moien Kanaan and Mary-Claire King, the MEBCS is a sister project of the New York Breast Cancer Study (NYBCS), directed by Dr. King, also sponsored by BCRF. 

The MEBCS research team has established a modern genomics laboratory at Bethlehem University under the direction of Dr. Kanaan. Here, routine genetic testing for breast cancer patients is being conducted, with backup from the laboratories of Dr. Ephrat Levy-Lahad and of Dr. Mary-Claire King. The research team has enrolled and carried out genetic testing for the largest cohort of breast cancer patients of Arab ancestry in the world. They identified many mutations specific to this population, including a Palestinian-specific “founder mutation” that has an effect among Palestinian women similar to the effects of founder mutations among Jewish women. They continue to conduct genetic analyses from patients and tumors within this diverse group. 

In addition to this work, they have created and sustained training programs in cancer genetics for Palestinian nurses and social workers, who now offer counseling for high-risk women.

Biography

Dr. Kanaan is a Professor of Molecular Genetics in the Department of Life Sciences, Faculty of Science at Bethlehem University, Palestine and Director of the Bethlehem University Hereditary Research Laboratory (HRL), which he established in 1992. Over the last 18 years his laboratory has been investigating the genetically isolated Palestinian population and its high rate of genetically-based diseases, with a focus on hereditary hearing impairment (HHI).

Dr. Kanaan’s laboratory uses current approaches in genetics, genomics, cell biology and biochemistry in studying inherited hearing loss in a large extended Palestinian cohort and has contributed to profiling a broad spectrum of novel mutations in many genes known to cause hearing loss. His current project with Ephrat Levy-Lahad and Mary-Claire King builds on his prior work and will focus on the mutation profiling of breast cancer in the a high –risk Palestinian population. Dr. Kanaan is recognized as a leading Palestinian geneticist. He has many publications to his credit and is a recipient of many research and scientific awards. He has participated in many international research efforts and scientific networks.

BCRF Investigator Since

2007

Donor Recognition

The Roslyn and Leslie Goldstein Award