Shaikh Ahmad and Raja Al Gurg at the launch of the new initiative to fund medical research. Image Credit: Atiq-Ur-Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: The Al Jalila Foundation launched Majlis Al Ata’a, group of donors from the UAE who believe that medical research is a crucial component of the UAE’s long-term prosperity. The Majlis Al Ata’a will support local medical research into five significant health challenges for the Gulf area: diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and mental health.

On Tuesday night, Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Al Jalila Foundation, hosted a hosted a suhour attended by businessmen and philanthropists who formed the initial pool of medical research patrons. Dh30 million was raised which the Al Jalila Foundation described as the seed for a long-term commitment that will leave a legacy for generations to come.

The list of donors who have become members in Majlis Al Ata’a include Khalaf Al Habtoor, Raja Eisa Al Gurg, Abdul Ghaffar Hussain, Riyadh Sadek, Mohammad Al Ansari, Siddharth Balachandran, Dubai Holding and an anonymous donor.

Shaikh Ahmad said that just as Dubai is a global leader in many fields, so will “medical research support Dubai’s efforts to achieve similar status in health-care excellence. A number of us have committed to this journey and tied their names to a future where we challenge our most prevalent health issues with the brainpower of our own biomedical scientists. Our mission is not only to lend financial support to medical research, but to make it a national dialogue.”

Raja Eisa Al Gurg, Chairperson of the Board of Directors and Member of the Board of Trustees of Al Jalila Foundation, spoke of the importance of developing local research in the Gulf region into finding solutions for these significant medical challenges.

“The social and economic impact of what we are signing up for is immeasurable. Vaccines, as an example of medical innovation, prevent at least three million deaths and save 750,000 children from disability worldwide every year,” she said. “Statistics from developed western nations suggest that every dollar invested in medical research leads to more than $2.5 (Dh9.18) of economic activity. This is the future that we envision for the UAE; this is what Majlis Al Ata’a will be remembered for by our children and their children”.

The Majlis Al Ata’a will operate out of the Al Jalila Foundation Research Centre which will be the first independent multi-disciplinary medical research centre in the UAE and will collaborate with leading global and regional scientific institutions to develop local scientists. The centre will also offer UAE-based scientists research fellowships and grants to enable them to study at prominent international academic institutions. It is expected to open in April 2016 and will be located in Dubai Healthcare City.

The research grants and international fellowships will be two separate programmes, which will “help to develop successful, home-grown leaders with the ability to produce medical research that is relevant to the region”, in the words of Professor Sehamuddin Galadari, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Cell Biology and Academic and Research Adviser of Al Jalila Foundation.

Researchers are invited to apply for seed grants of up to Dh300,000 which will give them the opportunity to investigate regional health issues through basic science, translational or clinical research projects. The grants are available to all nationalities, provided the research is conducted in the UAE. Applicants should hold positions at local universities, research institutions, or hospitals and will be assessed through an international peer review process.

The fellowships are available exclusively to Emirati biomedical professionals, offering them the opportunity to study at world-renowned institutions, with an aim to migrate global best practice to the UAE. Applicants will be considered by the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee for a place on a three-month Student Research Elective or a year-long Research Training Support programme.

Dr Abdul Kareem Al Olama, Chief Executive Officer of Al Jalila Foundation, said: “Launching the UAE’s first independent medical research centre is a great moment for our nation. We are humbled by the level of support we have received from the UAE community in our first year, a community filled with a sense of duty and great drive to excel in health care. Our generous donors continue to make a significant contribution to the well-being of the nation and the newly announced centre. Developing a state-of-the-art medical research centre will revolutionise the UAE’s health-care landscape. ”

The Al Jalila Foundation is a global philanthropic organisation dedicated to transforming lives through medical education and research, and was established by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, to position Dubai and the UAE at the forefront of medical innovation. It is named after Shaikha Al Jalila Bint Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the daughter of Shaikh Mohammed and Chairperson of Dubai Healthcare City Authority Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain.