The UK’s Zayed Centre for researching rare diseases in children is celebrating its second anniversary with praise for its pioneering work on gene therapy and Covid-19.
The centre, which is linked to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, opened shortly before the pandemic arrived in Britain.
It is named after the UAE’s Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, whose wife Sheikha Fatima donated £60 million ($82.6m) to the Great Ormond Street charity in 2014.
Entering its third year, the centre praised its scientists for investigating the smallest amount of coronavirus that is needed to cause an infection, helping the world’s understanding of Covid-19.
The hospital described this as the first human challenge trial of the pandemic, meaning healthy volunteers were deliberately exposed to the virus under controlled conditions to help develop treatments.
This research has “supported the global pandemic response by aiding vaccine and treatment development”, the centre said.
A separate gene therapy trial ended with 48 out of 50 patients no longer showing symptoms of a rare, inherited immune deficiency called ADA-SCID.
It came as the hospital celebrated 20 years since the first gene therapy carried out at Great Ormond Street, on a child called Rhys Evans who celebrated his 21st birthday in October.
Gene therapy researcher Prof Manju Kurian said working at the Zayed Centre had been “absolutely life-transforming” for him and his colleagues.
“We answer the questions that families ask us: why has my child got this condition, how has this happened and what can you do to make my child’s life better?,” he said.
“And being in the Zayed Centre has allowed us to answer them. We have the most amazing laboratory space, we have state-of-the-art tissue culture facilities and we are in a milieu of other researchers who have the same goal, propelling us forward for these children.”
The centre said it had treated more than 105,000 young patients since it opened. There were more than 25,000 appointments at a section called Falcon Outpatients.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, toured the centre on a visit to the UK in September.
He said he was inspired by the pioneering research taking place there and thanked staff for helping children from around the world.