Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) is fast emerging as a world-class hub for evolutionary healthcare initiatives, due to its highly focused approach towards research and development, experts said.
Speaking in an exclusive with Khaleej Times ahead of the Arab Health 2021 exhibition, Jamal Abdulsalam, chief executive officer at DHCC, said that the DHCC’s initiatives has put Dubai on the global stage for the healthcare sector. “We have a great story to tell. It's a story of a collaborative environment where scientists, medics, academics and healthcare providers are coming together in a powerful ecosystem of knowledge, scientific abilities and advanced technologies that are now cornerstones of DHCC's transformative ecosystem.”
He further highlighted what visitors at Arab Health can expect to see with the DHCC’s participation under the theme ‘Research and Innovation’. Together with its partners Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU), Al Jalila Children's Specialty Hospital (AJSH), and Al Jalila Foundation, the DHCC has rolled out a series of sector-leading initiatives aimed at nurturing medical breakthroughs and upscaling development opportunities for medical professionals.
The AJSH is to carry out the GCC's first clinical study into the epidemiology of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), an autosomal recessive inherited disease and a leading genetic killer for sufferers under the age of two years. The study, which focuses on the epidemiology of the disease in the UAE, is a screening program led by AJSH's state-of-the-art Genomics Center – the UAE's first clinical genomics facility which offers a wide range of genetic testing and counselling services to the American College of Genetics and Genomics (ACMGG) standards.
"This is breakthrough research being conducted right here in the emirates which addresses a research gap and will enable the sector to better understand the scale of the SMA problem in the country and stimulate further research into how to address it," explained Abdulsalam.
AJSH is also spearheading a working group to study the workflow of genome sequencing in the intensive care setting following an agreement with Illumina Netherlands BV, the world's leader in next-generation sequencing. The move is aimed at improving the use of testing, fostering greater understanding of best-use cases, clinical indicators, and the health economics of genome sequencing in the specialized setting. And the DHCC partner has also secured a Memorandum of Understanding with the independent University of Balamand Dubai which will see the two develop, collaborate, and engage in mutually beneficial educational, training, research, and internship opportunities for both the University's students and its faculty.
"These are just several initiatives in a wide-ranging program which has seen us, in collaboration with our long-standing partners, complete 70 research projects over the past two years, and currently progress 75 active research studies, ranging from Covid-19, cancer, diabetes, autism, gastroenterology, depression, kidney disorders, and a number of paediatric conditions," explained Abdulsalam. “In collaboration with our partners we have implemented three Phase III Clinical Trials and two, Phase II Clinical Trials - important work that will shed new light on treatments for a number of conditions and ultimately contribute to saving lives."
The R&D focus is aligned to the UAE Centennial 2071 plan, the country's bold vision which focuses on innovation and education to advance science and technology and improve health sciences.
"This is a clear statement of our goal for the next 50 years of becoming a global incubator of entrepreneurship and an international center of research," said Abdulsalam. "We are well advanced in bringing together medics, scientists, and academics to ensure research and development remain cornerstones of an ecosystem which will not only deliver quality healthcare in this country but aid the advancement of medical research worldwide.”
He added: "Our partners are now attracting the attention of major global names within the medical equipment and pharmaceutical industries who are turning to them for knowledge transfer and the sharing of expertise. This, in itself, is evidence that we are on the cusp of global recognition as a healthcare research center of industry-leading standing."
Abdulsalam also believes that the DHCC's new theme is timely with the Covid-19 pandemic awakening recognition of the essential role of research and development in healthcare advancement. "Researchers and scientists were once unsung heroes – that's no longer the case. There is now public recognition that these professionals are key to the health of our communities. DHCC is now in the process of implementing clinic trials in a bid to minimize the impact of the novel coronavirus and our partners have played a leading role in Dubai's fight against the pandemic," he said.
The Dubai Covid-19 Command and Control Center, established by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and Chairman of the Executive Council, to coordinate the emirate's response to tackling the virus, performed the UAE's first full genome sequencing of the virus, conducted by researchers at the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU), a DHCC anchor partner.
Another DHCC partner, the Al Jalila Foundation, which promotes medical education and research by investing in the Emirates' medical treatment capabilities, also granted seed funding totaling $680,735 to five UAE scientists charting new research territories for Covid-19 in the field of genetics, therapies, and diagnosis. The grant was awarded under the auspices of the recently inaugurated Mohammed Bin Rashid Medical Research Institute (MRMRI) – the UAE's first independent biomedical research center - to help enhance the UAE's capacity to address the pandemic and other viral diseases in the future.
"One encouraging outcome of the pandemic amid the challenges is acceleration in rapid action, digital transformation and collaboration. As the world moves forward during the Covid-era, research and development, cooperation, and knowledge sharing will be vital to sustained success. By embracing and optimizing new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning and smart solutions many of our partners now have a distinct competitive advantage in the new normal and for the half-century ahead," explained Abdulsalam.
"The creation of the new Medical Research Institute and Al Jalila Foundation's funding of high-profile research projects across genomics, pediatric nephrology, kidney disease, neurology, and mental health, will enable great insights to be delivered to the world's medical community via informed papers and case studies which will be submitted to international conferences and publications over the coming months and years,” he added. “This will add to the momentum to building DHCC's research center credentials, encourage other leading professionals to join our community, help engage more industry supporters, bring more patients to our shores, improve the health of the UAE population and realize our ambition of driving healthcare change for the next 50 years."
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