UAE institutions must ‘make the most of science and technology innovation’

DNA pioneer says the UAE is ideally situated to embrace change.

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ABU DHABI // Showing no sign of weariness from his 76 years, or jet lag from having just arrived from Seattle, world-renowned scientist Dr Leroy Hood energetically and passionately addressed a captivated audience at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR).

Academics, professionals and students alike attentively listened to the biotech pioneer speak of the need for transferring knowledge from educational institutes into society where it could be of most benefit to the population.

“UAE is ideally situated to take advantage of what we have learnt,” said Dr Hood, who is best known for revolutionising biomedicine with the creation of the high-speed DNA sequencing machines that made the human genome project possible.

His long list of scientific and technological accomplishments has since led to him receiving the National Medal of Science from United States president Barack Obama in 2012.

Dr Hood spoke of his past frustrations of having to deal with older, more conservative educational institutions when he wanted to market his inventions and make them available to the public.

“The young UAE institutions are in a unique position to make the most of science and technology innovation without having to fight established hierarchy and bureaucracy that doesn’t want to change,” he said.

Echoing the guest speaker’s sentiments was Dr Tod Laursen, president of Khalifa University, which, in collaboration with the ECSSR, hosted the event.

Dr Laursen said: “Collaboration is key. If you look at what institutes like UAEU [United Arab Emirates University], Masdar Institute and Khalifa University are doing in graduate education and research you’ll see we’re looking for quality institutions we can collaborate and have a substantive exchange of ideas and individuals with.”

After Dr Hood’s speech, Saeed Al Rashidi, 20, said: “The thing that caught my attention was how to approach new organisations with your new ideas, rather than the older ones that are set in their ways.”

The second-year computer engineering student, who was attending his fourth Distinguished Speaker Series talk, said: “I always attend them to get informed and this talk gave me ambition to achieve my goals.”

Biomedical engineering major Alia Al Ameri, 20, said: “The medical field in the UAE requires a lot of development and to reach those high standards we need to know the steps required to get there. The talk helped with this.”

Dr Hood has co-founded 15 biotechnology companies and is president of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. He said his latest project, P4 medicine, is health care that is predictive, preventive, personalised and participatory.

Rather than the current medical approach of treating symptoms of illness, P4 medicine aims to customise health care using genome sequencing to continuously manage an individual’s health.

“I am telling the US Congress that this project is even more important than the human genome project was,” he said.