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Zayed Centre for Research state-of-the art facilities have been singled out for its quality and scale. Image Credit: WAM

ABU DHABI: The Zayed Centre for Research opened in October 2019, anticipating to see thousands of patients and hundreds of clinicians and researchers together under one roof to advance treatments for children with rare and complex diseases.

Instead, when the pandemic hit earlier this year, the Centre’s research activity, facilities, expertise and medical staff were quickly put in service of supporting the hospital treat patients during the pandemic and on research activity to understand and inform officials of the virus.

Significantly, the Zayed Centre for Research state-of-the art facilities have been singled out for its quality and scale, and will manufacture the virus needed for the first human challenge trial for a COVID-19 vaccine, announced in October 2020. In addition, researchers have worked together to test patient and staff member samples to allow staff and patients to be treated, and have “sequenced” over 1,300 COVID-19 genomes. This helps scientists to learn about gradual changes in the virus over time and can reveal how it is spreading through different parts of the population.

Professor Maha Barakat, Director General of the Frontline Heroes Office stated: “The Zayed Centre was so flexible and nimble, redefining its immediate research programs to target the priorities of COVID. They have been able to use the tools they have and the methodologies in which they are expert to innovate and pivot to help, and we are proud of their contribution to this global emergency.”

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Researchers have worked together to test patient and staff member samples to allow staff and patients to be treated. Image Credit: WAM

Professor Judith Breuer of Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and University College London (UCL) has played a key part in pivoting research efforts since April 2020. “We’ve been continuing the UK effort to sequence COVID-19 genomes which is being used to understand the spread of the virus in the country. We’re also using sequencing to try and understand the impact of drugs, and that follows on directly from the work that is already underway in the Zayed Centre for Research to understand more about how viruses affect children.”

The Zayed Centre for Research’s award winning design and facilities have helped the researchers and clinicians over a challenging few months, as Breuer explains: “The Zayed Centre for Research is a wonderful place to work in. It’s been particularly good when we’ve had to socially distance, as the large space is incredibly adaptable to the requirements for safe working during the pandemic. We have been fortunate to have access to these exceptional facilities to match the expertise of the teams working around the clock to help us improve the care we can offer to seriously ill children.”

Making a difference

Louise Parkes, Chief Executive at GOSH Charity, reflected on the Centre’s first year, commenting: “The ambition that drives all our work is to make a difference to seriously ill children from across the UK who are cared for at GOSH. As a dedicated space to help unlock the much-needed breakthroughs to treat rare disease, it is fitting that the Zayed Centre for Research is playing such a critical role in research around COVID-19. When we celebrated the opening of the Zayed Centre for Research in 2019, we never could have imagined the circumstances in which we would all be operating in, just one year later. We are incredibly grateful to all of our donors and supporters without whom we wouldn’t have this amazing facility which is so needed now more than ever. The Zayed Centre for Research is real testament to what we can achieve when we work together.”

Mat Shaw, Chief Executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital said: “Collaboration is absolutely critical for the work we do for seriously ill children and never more so than at a time when we are facing the challenges that COVID-19 has presented. It’s amazing for both GOSH and UCL to have this facility to work together in, and it’s thanks to the incredible dedication and collaboration of scientists, researchers and clinicians from across our organisations that we have achieved so much in such a short space of time.”

The Zayed Centre has received donations from Research England, The Wolfson Foundation, John Connolly & Odile Griffith and the Mead Family Foundation whose generous support contributed to the creation of the Zayed Centre for Research. The centre is a partnership between Great Ormond Street Hospital, UCL and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.