Bringing clinical trials to Abu Dhabi

The UAE's capital is trying to become a leading centre of medical testing

The UAE's diverse population makes it an effective location to hold trials. PA
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Looking at the UAE's healthcare system is a good way to get a grasp of the country's rapid development since its founding just over 51 years ago.

During the mid-20th century, medical services were extremely basic. An article by the UAE's National Library and Archives describes the work of the British Government's "Dr McCaully", who in the 1940s helped set up and run a simple health service in the territories that now comprise the Emirates, to serve oil companies and locals.

By the 1960s, a more sophisticated health system was emerging, with one British document from 1960 praising Dubai's Al Maktoum Hospital as reflecting "no little credit on those responsible for its development". Many staff came from India and Pakistan.

Today, the UAE's healthcare sector is completely transformed, and there are many thousands who deserve credit. The country has some of the best healthcare in the Middle East, if not the world, with brands such as the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic operating.

This also helps diversify the country's economy. The option of advanced care in the country reduces the need for residents to travel abroad for treatment.

An important milestone in the sector took place this week when Abu Dhabi opened a clinical trials centre at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City, in partnership with the Mayo Clinic. It will contribute to medical research and help establish the capital as a global hub for medicine by researching vaccines, innovative drugs, devices, procedures and tests, among other products in the fields of oncology, cardiology, neurology, rheumatology, haematology, ophthalmology, gastroenterology and paediatrics.

Speaking about the new centre, Dr Naser Ammash, chief executive of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City, said that it will "elevate our institution to higher levels because we're not only taking care of patients but also looking for different kinds of solutions for their needs...This is how you develop the life sciences hub in Abu Dhabi and take it to that next level".

He is right. A truly sophisticated healthcare sector is made up of more than simply hospitals and clinics. It is also about embracing the science that advances understanding.

The UAE has already created projects in this regard. In 2020, the Emirate Genome Programme was launched. By collecting more regional DNA data, it is hoped that insight can be gained into genetic disorders that disproportionately affect people in the region, and therefore help doctors provide more personalised care.

That project might be geared towards Emiratis, but one of the reasons Abu Dhabi makes so much sense as a centre of medical trials is its diverse society. With more than 200 nationalities in the UAE, a genetically wide range of potential volunteers is within easy reach.

But this week's news is about more than economics and science. It is also about giving hope, especially to those that are most ill. Dr Shahrukh Hashmi, acting medical director of research at the hospital, told The National: “One of the top areas is cancer and we want to do individualised personalised medicine ... This will provide hope to patients who have gone through all their cancer therapies without success.”

Sixty years ago, physicians such as Dr McCaully were setting up facilities that looked like little more than field hospitals. He would most likely have been surprised that in such a short space of time, a new country in the territory he worked in would join the ranks of the most scientifically advanced nations that can support such health infrastructure. It is a credit to him, and the many thousands that have followed since, who have contributed to medicine in the Emirates.

Published: January 19, 2023, 3:00 AM