Crown Prince visit is 'ultimate highlight'

Inspection on Monday of centre at forefront of research into surgery and palliative care for children reveals cutting-edge developments.

Dr Kurt Newman of the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Paediatric Surgical Innovation said it was the "ultimate highlight of the visit to see the Crown Prince and his delegation engage with families of children".

ABU DHABI // As part of his visit to the US capital this week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, visited the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Paediatric Surgical Innovation at the Children's National Medical Center.

It was the first official, royal visit since the founding of the institute in 2009, following a US$150 million (Dh551m) gift from the Government of Abu Dhabi to honour the memory of the late Sheikh Zayed, founder of the UAE.

The medical centre's Washington campus also carries Sheikh Zayed's name.

Together with Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Sheikh Mohammed toured the top floor of the medical centre on Monday.

He visited some of the Emirati children currently seeking treatment in the hospital. The hospital has treated children from over 50 countries. A third of those are international referrals, including about 100 children from the UAE, who make the trip to the hospital for treatment each year, said a hospital spokeswoman.

Dr Kurt Newman, the surgeon-in-chief and senior vice president at the institute, said it was the "ultimate highlight of the visit to see the Crown Prince and his delegation engage with families of the children being cared for at the hospital".

"It was a wonderful feeling of partnership and collaboration, of bringing medicine and science together, which is what we want to do with this institute, and which he was doing in person," said Dr Newman.

The Crown Prince then toured the institute itself, located on the Sheikh Zayed Campus for Advanced Children's Medicine, which will conduct research into new treatments that can make surgery for children more precise, less painful and less invasive. The 20,000 square feet facility includes basic science laboratories, bioengineering facilities, conference rooms equipped for long distance communication, and office space for business development and engineering experts. Faculty and researchers moved into the new floors on April 1.

Dr Newman has hired between 20 and 30 scientists from around the world in the past 12 months.

"We have superstars from around the world contacting us. Our challenge has been to figure out the cream of the crop."

Alongside research and innovation, there will also be an education and training programme. "We will have a whole curriculum around innovation, and the Crown Prince already met our first fellow, Dr Kate Davenport," Dr Newman said.

Sheikh Mohammed engaged in dialogue with the scientists on how pain in children can be measured, and what drugs can be developed to affect the pain threshold in children.

"Having our research team engage in that conversation with him and discuss those scientific problems was so motivating for them, to see someone of his stature interested in their work," said Dr Newman.

In the next five to 10 years, the institute hopes to introduce a device that can measure pain in babies and small children, and personalise medical treatments for children based on their genetic make-up.

The centre is not the first gift from the Government of Abu Dhabi to be made in the name of Sheikh Zayed for the purpose of advancing medical research.

Previous gifts have been made to Johns Hopkins and the Cleveland Clinic. This donation, which will be paid for over five years, remains the largest contribution made to paediatric medical research.