Tailored medical close to a reality

Princess Haya champions need for personalised medicines technology for next generation of medical personnel.

Princess Haya speaks on Thursday at the Leaders in Healthcare Conference in Dubai. Victor Besa for The National
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DUBAI // Treatments tailored to meet patients’ genetic make-up could soon become a reality in the UAE, Princess Haya said on Thursday.

Speaking at the Leaders in Healthcare Conference, the Princess, wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said with the country’s rapidly growing population and its unique genetic make-up, changing demographics and lifestyle habits continued to present significant challenges to medicine.

“We are still bombarded with cases of diabetes, heart disease and cancer that should make us wonder whether we need to do more than just have a universe of healthcare provision where one size fits all,” said Princess Haya, the Dubai Healthcare City Chairwoman.

Personalised medicine uses diagnostic tests, the science of DNA, molecular testing and data analysis to create efficient and cost-effective treatments.

“By the time medical students have graduated from the Mohammed bin Rashid University [of Medicine and Health Sciences], we should have ready for them the tools that they need and offer them the best chance to take advancements for personalised medicine.

“We need to have the policies, infrastructure, systems, funding and research prepped up for a fresh generation of clinicians to take the lead.”

Scientific research has shown that traditional medicine is not as effective as it can be.

“Every day, millions of people are taking medications that are not useful to them. At best, the top 10 grossing drugs in the US help less than 50 per cent of those taking them,” said Princess Haya.

“Is it right to subject patients to the side-effects from drugs that are of no benefit to them at all? Is it ethical or justifiable? In a time of scarce healthcare resources, is it sensible to be spending money on medicines that simply don’t work on the majority of those who take them?”

She said medical advances meant that doctors were able to see how a patient’s genetic make-up predisposed them towards illness.

This would “govern our response to treatment and drugs will enable our healthcare professionals to provide better prevention, more accurate diagnosis and more effective drugs at a price that is more affordable”.

Stephen Carter, group chief executive officer of Informa, the organiser of Arab Health, agreed genetic testing was the future of health care.

“In the past, all patients who were diagnosed with a disease received effectively the same medication, or some variation,” he said.

“The effectiveness of that is increasingly being questioned. Now we are at a point where advances in science and technology mean that we increasingly understand what is happening at the molecular level.”

Dr Azad Moopen, Aster D M Healthcare chairman, said research was under way in the UAE into this form of medical treatment.

“We are conducting a pilot project where we are getting data from our patients on control of their condition,” he said.

“We can use mobile phone applications to get feedback from people. Personalised medicine can be used to prevent certain genetic illnesses and you can know which person will or won’t respond to a medicine.”

Those with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension, have multiple problems and doctors cannot always predict the outcome because there can be an interaction between the medicines.

“The opportunities of using personalised medicine are immense here,” Dr Moopen said. “Once people are aware of personalised medicine there is a good chance of getting feedback from people about their treatments.”

Princess Haya also officially launched the College of Medicine and a degree programme for medical undergraduates at the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences. Applications open on Sunday for the six-year bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery programme for the academic year starting in September.

arizvi2@thenational.ae