UAE University awards Dh12.5m for research

Largest funding of its kind for institution recognises a wide array of projects from diabetes to language preservation.

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UAE University is awarding Dh12.5 million to its researchers, the largest amount of internal funding awarded in the institution's history.

The move is part of the university's broader effort to become a research institution as it hopes to attract more funding from government departments and other potential sponsors.

UAE University awarded funds to 37 individual projects based on their relevance to the country's health, economic, environmental and social issues, and also on how they were judged by a panel of international peers.

Several of the studies focused on diabetes, for instance, a condition that affects more than a quarter of Emiratis.

"It's an important step in continuing to build our research capability and in ensuring that our research is well aligned with the nation's needs," said Rory Hume, the university's provost.

Dr Walid Elshorbagy's study on the nation's water desalination process received a grant of Dh250,000, which will allow him to carry out chemical analyses at water treatment plants to determine whether the chlorination process or other technologies used are producing cancer-causing byproducts.

"We will try to itemise the best disinfection processes so that the harmful byproducts generated are easily eliminated and minimised," Dr Elshorbagy said. "This financial assistance will help us determine how to produce healthier water, which every individual has a right to."

Prof Basel al Ramadi, who is researching cancer cell growth and immunity, said his grant of Dh250,000 was triple what his laboratory usually received. The money will allow him to invest in cutting-edge technologies in his field, and enable him to bring in postdoctoral fellows, whom he called "the backbone" of research.

"This brings the impact and quality of our work to the standards of reputable labs around the world, in terms of execution," Prof al Ramadi said.

"Productive research requires the right people and the right technology, and that was not feasible with the funding that we had. This has a huge impact in that it brings much of the research on par with the best."

Research on genetic conditions received a high priority due to marriages between blood relatives in the UAE.

Bassam Ali, an associate professor of molecular and genetic medicine, is adapting a newly developed gene-silencing technology, called siRNA, to find treatments for birth defects.

But the projects to receive funding were not all science-oriented. There were studies on Emirati kindergarten programmes, street lighting and strategic planning for public organisations.

A study from the university's department of linguistics focused on creating a text database of Emirati Arabic. "This is important for enriching and preserving this specific dialect, which can even vary from emirate to emirate," said Dr Girma Halefom, who headed the study.

"The uses for this are endless, from translations, searching text, writing grammar books and dictionaries. This is really the beginning of research and investigation of this language."

UAE University, the oldest federal university in the country, is ranked among the top 400 in the world.

It has been working toward becoming the nation's first research-based institution, launching a public health research institute and establishing PhD programmes this year.

Officials also said earlier this year that they would eventually cut as many as 200 university jobs to help boost research funding.