'Meet our grantees' 6: Davit Babikyan, Head of Laboratory, Center of Medical Genetics and Primary Health Care
In the 'Meet our grantees' series we present beneficiaries of our EaP PLUS grants to attend brokerage (networking) events. Now we publish the 6th interview with Davit Babikyan.
My name is Davit Babikyan. I am 40 years old, from the oldest capital of Europe, Yerevan, Armenia. Apart from my professional activities in genetics, I am interested in culture, cinematography, ethnography, and history, which I regard as the world heritage of humanity. It not only helps me to realize my personal social needs in daily life, but also to find bridges between them and my profession, such as the influence of social culture on human epigenomic “signature”. And, of course, travelling anywhere in the world is my favourite activity on the way to discovering and learning new things and to give fresh air to my brain.
Can you please explain your professional background?
As a biologist, I started my education in Yerevan State University completing my bachelor degree in biophysics in 1999. However, starting from my undergraduate education years I realized my strong professional affiliation to genetics, which I continued to study in my graduate education at the same university, specializing in human genetics. I completed my postgraduate studies, devoted to genetic analysis of Alzheimer’s disease and its treatment options through immunotherapy and nucleic acid vaccination, at the Institute for Molecular Medicine as well as the University of California, Irvine, USA, during 2001-2004. I came back to Armenia in 2004 and finished my PhD degree. I got involved in the research of cancer genetics which I soon continued as postdoctoral research at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, working on the identification of factors of genetic burden of hereditary breast cancer. After, once again, returning to my homeland in 2008, I created the laboratory of cancer genetics and genomic research and I have been continuing my research in cancer genetics. I also got my certification as a European clinical laboratory geneticist from the European Board of Medical Genetics in 2017.
What is your current professional situation?
Currently, I am leading the two laboratories mentioned before at the Center of Medical Genetics and Primary Health Care in Yerevan, which is the only genetic institution in the whole South Caucasian region with lots of activity in diagnostics, research, and education. My daily practice in diagnostics involves genetic counselling and genetic testing of patients with hereditary cancer, and genetic testing of cancer patients for targeted therapy. Apart from my research, I am also an associate professor and lecturer at the Department of Medical Genetics of Yerevan State Medical University, where I have lead the EC Tempus project during 2013-2017 while successfully establishing residency training programs in clinical genetics and clinical laboratory genetics.
What is the focus of your scientific research project?
The era of genomics and next generation sequencing technologies has broadened my interests, and I am currently leading two scientific projects, the first related to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, and the second related to intellectual disability. Both are focused on the identification and analysis of the cumulative effect of genetic and genomic changes on those multifactorial diseases. The project on cancer genetics is dedicated to comprehensive analysis of genetic variants detected in Armenians, in line with the analysis of population controls both with high background of pro-inflammatory factors as a known factor causing cancer. The project of ID is devoted to the characterization of changes at gene and genomic levels for genotype-phenotype correlation analyses in different syndromes with ID and identification of new genetic changes responsible for syndromic or non-syndromic forms of ID.
What were you able to achieve/which event were you able to attend thanks to the EaP PLUS grant?
I attended the Horizon 2020 Health Brokerage Event in Oslo, Norway, during 3-4 September 2018 using the EaP PLUS grant. The pre-arranged and fortuitous meetings supported the introduction of the institutes, research expertise, and future plans in upcoming calls, which lead to new contacts, new views and ideas.
In which way did the EaP PLUS grant contribute to support your scientific research project?
Participation in the Horizon 2020 Health Brokerage Event provided an opportunity to present the vision and perspective on scientific development of my projects to researchers, in order to lead an open discussion on new tools and calls in Horizon 2020, and for future collaboration. It was also a unique stage for meeting European experts and authorities to clarify such issues as selection of the right topic and preparation of future research projects, and finding interested groups or consortia.
What are the next steps of your scientific research project (where do you see yourself in the next 5 years)?
Given the creation of a genomic research laboratory at the CMG, we will extend our research towards genomic analysis of hereditary diseases and assessment of their genetic component. Understanding of molecular consequences of genetic variations on gene and protein product in human cells will be the focus of our research, eventually resulting in the deduction of the causative role of those genomic changes in pathological changes in such conditions as cancer, neurological and cardiac disorders, which are the main causes of morbidity and mortality in Armenia. The identification of new genes responsible for different conditions will “provoke” a new scientific project. The results of our genomic research will be translated into another area of priority investigations: the provision of genetic diagnostics (including prenatal and preimplantation) and the provision of new therapeutic solutions (including cellular/gene therapy, the discovery of new orphan drugs), which our team will be able to realise in close collaboration with and as a part of grasping European and international scientific networks.