How UAE residents can be part of the next breakthrough drug discovery

Residents can contribute to the cord blood bank through different speciality hospitals in the emirate of Abu Dhabi


Ashwani Kumar

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram


Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Published: Thu 16 May 2024, 6:06 PM

Last updated: Thu 16 May 2024, 9:51 PM

Residents have an opportunity to play a role in drug discovery and save crucial lives by consenting to their blood, cord blood, and cell samples to be used for research purposes at the Abu Dhabi Biobank.

While the biobank is expected to be commissioned and open next year, currently, residents can contribute to the cord blood bank through different speciality hospitals in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Albarah Elkhani, senior vice president at M42, in an interview with Khaleej Times, explained the process, and benefits of donating samples for humanity, and how residents can play a major role.

What is Abu Dhabi Biobank?

The Abu Dhabi Biobank, a collaborative effort between the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi and M42, is a state-of-the-art facility to collect biological samples for research purposes, drug discoveries, and clinical trials. M42 will be operating the stand-alone facility from Masdar City’s net zero building.

Stay up to date with the latest news. Follow KT on WhatsApp Channels.

“The whole concept of the Abu Dhabi Biobank is how to integrate the biological specimens that we can collect from our patients, and our population and community, and integrate the data accordingly to help expedite and improve our research, clinical trials and ultimately leading to drug discovery,” Elkhani said.

Albarah Elkhani (KT Photo: Ashwani Kumar)
Albarah Elkhani (KT Photo: Ashwani Kumar)

“We anticipate that the commissioning of the (biobank) facility will finish early next year. The biobank will bring researchers and collaborators from around the world to work here,” he said and noted the biobank is part of the DoH’s strategies to localise life sciences from a research perspective in Abu Dhabi.

What kind of specimens get collected?

Samples collected at hospitals include blood, saliva, cell samples, etc. The biobank is categorised into two sections: cord blood bank and pan-human biobank. The cord blood bank focuses on collecting cord blood from a newborn child and collecting and storing the stem cells that can be used for clinical therapeutics as well as research in the future. At the pan-human biobank, any sample of interest can be collected.

“Cord blood bank has already been launched. It is a solution, which is part of the Abu Dhabi Biobank. The cord blood bank solution is collecting cord blood from the ecosystem in Abu Dhabi. So, hopefully, many milestones to come that will show progression as we move forward,” Elkhani said.

Launch of cord blood bank

The Abu Dhabi Biobank’s first offering is the region’s largest hybrid cord blood bank, situated in M42’s Omics Centre of Excellence. The service will be introduced across four leading healthcare entities dedicated to mother and child health across Abu Dhabi.

Prospective parents can avail themselves of this service at Danat Al Emarat Hospital for Women and Children, Corniche Hospital, Kanad Hospital, and hospitals as part of NMC Healthcare. Thus, umbilical cord blood, which is usually discarded away after a baby’s birth, can be used to save someone needing a stem cell transplant, and for more.

“The staff at the hospital have the opportunity to inform the mothers to donate a sample for cord blood bank, which will help in the ecosystem of research and collaboration of potential clinical therapeutics for those in need of stem cells in the future,” Elkhani noted.

How can parents play a part?

The samples will be collected from patients at the healthcare facilities only with their consent.

“This will be an informed consenting process. The person donating the sample understands what they’re donating for. Someone will explain how donating a sample will help with research and drug discovery. These samples will be delivered to our facility where they will be stored using the best-in-class technology and in a controlled environment to be utilised for research purposes, drug clinical trials, and potentially drug discovery.”

How do samples help in drug discovery?

“As an example, advancements in therapeutics related to cancer are of global interest today. If we collect tumour samples from cancer, then we’ll able to what we call molecularly identify this cancer. So, we’re able to identify the genetics of the cancer, to help in identifying potential new future therapeutics for this cancer. Then you have other examples, where you can look at collecting a multitude of samples, blood samples, saliva samples, all the components of blood, and other biological specimen that could be of interest to find new biomarkers within the samples specific to the individuals who have donated it,” Elkhani underlined.

Additionally, there are plans afoot to upskill the local community through programmes to be established in the universities.

“So, having this discipline as an institutionalised scientific discipline within our academic activities will really help boost the local subject matter experts.”

‘Giving region a representation’

Bucking the trend of the population from Western Europe and North America usually representing 90 per cent of clinical trials globally, the biobank will ensure the inclusion of communities from the Emirates, and the Middle East region.

“It’s well documented that the vast majority, over 90 per cent of clinical trials are represented by only 10 per cent of ethnicities in the world. So our communities, be it in the specific region, and the wider region, is completely underrepresented when it comes to clinical trials and drug discovery,” Elkhani said and noted the biobank will help expand and diversify the datasets that global pharma companies use to manufacture drugs, and help make it more precise.

“Our research is here to help in drug discoveries and clinical trials. So, ultimately, we’re trying to benefit the entire globe by providing information that is specific to our communities.”


More news from UAE