The UAE is all set to get its first biobank with the potential to manage approximately seven million specimens – the world’s largest sample capacity. As per reports, Al Jalila Foundation is investing Dh17 million to build the advanced state-of-the-art facility aimed at boosting the advancement of medical research in the area of genetic disorders, cancer and other chronic diseases and pandemics.
Set to open in 2023, the entity will be an indispensable resource for the new Hamdan Bin Rashid Cancer Charity Hospital and other healthcare facilities across the UAE to carry out research and provide effective treatment.
Al Jalila Foundation is establishing the facility in partnership with the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) and the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Medical Research Institute, which is an indispensable part of Al Jalila Foundation in Dubai Healthcare City.
By definition, a biobank is a storage space with all types of human biological samples, including blood, tissue, cells, or body fluids. It will also store data related to the samples as well as other biomolecular resources that can be further used in conducting health research.
Biobanks serve an important function in medical research to support several types of contemporary research such as genomics and personalised medicine along with the development of diagnostics and therapeutics.
The system will be automated and robotic based on Artificial Intelligence to ensure that biological samples are secured in cryogenic storage (below 80 degree Celsius). It will help in maintaining proper sample integrity and retrieval.
Speaking about the initiatives, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairperson of Al Jalila Foundation Board of Trustees, underlined that biobanks are helping in accessing genetic and imaging data to drive forward pioneering approaches. As the UAE is getting its first robotic biobank, it reflects Dubai’s commitment to strengthen the potential and capabilities of the healthcare sector, while improving people’s health.
"The biobank will serve as a major contributor to the advancement of modern medicine and will enable scientific discoveries that will help enhance the health and wellbeing of the community," the official added.
Al Jalila Foundation is a member of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives.
Dr Raja Easa Al Gurg, chairperson of Al Jalila Foundation board of directors and member of the Board of Trustees, hailed biobanking as a game-changer for healthcare with the potential to revolutionise medical research to provide better outcomes for patient treatment.
"The biobank will provide an opportunity for people in the community and researchers to work together to build a better, healthier future for generations to come. Scientific progress will shape the nation’s economy by influencing our knowledge about human health, disease, therapeutics, personalised medicine, and more," Dr Al Gurg added.
Dr Abdulkareem Sultan Al Olama, CEO of Al Jalila Foundation, explained that biorepositories are places where patient samples can be stored.
"They serve as a hub of collaboration between scientists for doing either population health studies, or looking at cohorts of patients who have specific diseases, and trying to find better therapeutics and diagnostics to treat patients and save lives," Dr Al Olama said.
The authorities have affirmed that patient confidentiality will be given utmost priority, adding that the biological and medical data will be used by scientists to carry out research with the aim of making new discoveries about common and life-threatening diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Professor Alawi Alsheikh-Ali, deputy director-general of the Dubai Health Authority, stated that the robotic biobank is a reflection of Dubai’s vision to advance healthcare and be at the forefront of discovery. The Professor further expressed confidence that the planned biobank will bring significant value to the healthcare system in Dubai and the region.
"It is a clear example of how the integration of care with discovery, supported by advancement, can set the foundation for better outcomes for our current and future patients," Professor Alawi added.
Interestingly, the UAE's massive diversity of population with people from several ethnicities and nationalities will provide the required value to the platform to foster comparative studies on genetic, environmental, nutritional habits and behavioural aspects.
Such biobanks with diverse data will help researchers in accessing information about a large number of people for cross-purpose research studies. The UAE’s first robotic biobank will also attract strategic collaboration opportunities with relevant healthcare authorities and partners across the region and globally. Such partnerships will boost pioneering biomedical research and accelerate discoveries in the medical sector to transform patients’ experiences and recovery.
The facility will function in accordance with the best international practices in biobanking and comply with the highest regulations and ethical standards in terms of collection, processing, storage and analysis of biological samples and data.