Abu Dhabi to establish region's first public umbilical cord blood biobank in Masdar City

State-of-the-art centre will have capacity for up to five million samples to help tackle disease

Scientists in Abu Dhabi are at the forefront of stem cell research. Reuters
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A biobank scheduled to open next year in Abu Dhabi's Masdar City is set to become a cornerstone of medical research and could store up to five million biological samples and 100,000 stem cells.

The state-of-the-art centre, spanning 2,000 square metres, will house the largest collection of human biomaterials in the region, including blood, saliva and cell samples.

Launched in collaboration between M42 and the Department of Health at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Global Healthcare Week, the biobank has the potential to lead research and boost efforts to discover cures for many of today’s diseases.

“The Abu Dhabi biobank aims to establish a comprehensive bio-repository,” Albarah Elkhani, senior vice president at M42, told The National.

“This facility will collect a variety of human biological materials alongside associated data to aid in research and, ultimately, drug discovery.”

A diverse collection

Tumour tissues from specific cancers, as well as blood and saliva will be among the samples at the centre, Mr Elkhani said. It will also store cord blood - blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after birth.

The diverse collection will enable blind assessments and targeted research efforts to identify novel treatments and interventions for health issues.

“What makes this initiative stand out is its focus on cord-blood banking, which will be available both privately and publicly, making it the region’s first public cord-blood bank,” Mr Elkhani added.

“By integrating genomic data with biological samples, we are creating an innovation hub that will allow for international collaboration, thereby ensuring our population is represented in global drug discovery efforts.”

The biobank, which is to serve everyone in the region, is designed to address the underrepresentation of Middle Eastern and Asian communities in global clinical trials and drug discoveries.

Mr Elkhani emphasised the importance of informed consent from patients for cord-blood banking and hospital collections, with samples to be used ethically for research purposes.

“Our biobank will not only be a repository for samples but will also serve as a hub for data integration and analysis, aiding in drug discovery and research. This integration is crucial for the future success of the Abu Dhabi biobank,” he said.

The biobank is in the first net-zero building in Masdar City. It is focused not only on the physical storage of samples but also on the integration of diverse data sets.

“Regarding manpower, the facility is committed to employing the best local talent available while also placing a significant emphasis on developing national expertise,” Mr Elkhani said.

“Collaborations with universities are under way to develop programmes specifically tailored to biobanking. This strategy, developed in partnership with the Department of Health, aims to upskill Emiratis in this nascent scientific field, building local expertise through Master’s and PhD programmes designed to cultivate subject matter experts within the domain.”

Updated: May 14, 2024, 10:19 AM