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Wed 25 Oct 2006 04:00 AM

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It has long been acknowledged in the Gulf that that many of the region’s scientists and researchers who receive postgraduate training outside the region, particularly in Europe and North America, do not return to their home country.

Home investments|~|Wheatley2.jpg|~||~|It has long been acknowledged in the Gulf that that many of the region’s scientists and researchers who receive postgraduate training outside the region, particularly in Europe and North America, do not return to their home country. Highly skilled and poised to continue successful careers, they either return home to an environment that cannot support their level of expertise, or they remain expatriate, making valuable contributions to already thriving medical communities.

The Dubai Harvard Foundation for Medical Research (DHFMR) has a unique opportunity to change this situation. As the result of a partnership between Dubai Healthcare City and Harvard Medical School, the Foundation’s chief mission is to address the recognised need in the Gulf and Middle East region and develop a medical, scientific and academic infrastructure through investment in human capital, specialty medical education, training and research.

The Foundation will develop a cadre of leaders in medicine and the life sciences in the Arabian Gulf and Middle East Region. Talented young investigators will learn from, and work with, Harvard’s international network of experts, and be able to focus their efforts on diseases endemic to the Middle East. In addition, the Foundation hopes to create a fertile, vibrant environment for scientific inquiry – an environment that will sustain a regional medical community as well as its professional and intellectual resources.

Increased research and scientific activity in the Gulf and Middle East region will have several effects: the potential for the development of translational research will increase; the growth of regional incubators of medical innovation and enterprise that bring together and connect the cumulative knowledge and expertise of the best educators, talented scientists and leading clinicians; an increase in the number of published papers, articles and research findings; and, most importantly, patients will be able to obtain healthcare, especially tertiary care, that before could only be found away from home.

Initially the Foundation will focus on two research initiatives. The first will be research fellowships or leadership development awards made to qualified candidates who have undergone a review process. The awards are designed to train graduates in medical and biomedical research at a doctoral and postdoctoral level, with incentives to continue research within the Gulf and Middle East region after a period of time (two to three years) spent within the Harvard Medical School research community. It is expected that award recipients will be in the early or mid-stages of their career and that the first research awards will be made soon after July 2007, following an application and review process.

The second initiative is the establishment of Research Centers, located at Harvard Medical School, which will recruit HMS faculty dedicated to developing collaborative programs and training talented scientists from the region. The Centers will direct research at targeted diseases of high regional priority and facilitate collaborations with other academic research centers. It is also expected that the first research center will be formed after July 2007. Eventually, the Foundation will also support collaborative research programs between its research centers and laboratories, or other research centers in the Middle East, to provide opportunities for trained scientists.

The Foundation is also planning scientific conferences and symposia for 2007 to be held in Dubai, the first of which in early 2007 will gather young investigators from the Middle East as an opportunity to exchange ideas and research experience. Other symposia, open to the broader medical and healthcare community, will bring Harvard Medical School faculty to Dubai to speak on current research initiatives that are relevant to the Gulf and Middle East region. The Foundation will also establish an annual Science Writers Fellowship programme, a week-long initiative that will bring Arab journalists or writers with an interest in covering science issues to Harvard Medical School, where they will build on their skills to convey complex research themes to a general audience.

At the Foundation’s official launch in Dubai earlier this year, both the UAE minister of health Humaid Mohammad Obaid Al Qutami and Harvard University president Lawrence Summers referred to the importance of ensuring healthcare of the highest international standard is available to the region’s population, driven by a sustainable community of physicians, scientists, and students. President Summers also stated that, given the current rapid advances in medical knowledge and biomedical research, breakthrough discoveries occur at an accelerated rate.

The future of healthcare and biomedical discovery in the Middle East requires a bold commitment in support of scientists seeking to advance their careers. Moreover, an increase in scientific initiatives will accelerate the pace of discovery as these young investigators work with some of the best scientists of this generation.

Robin J. Wheatley
Director of Resource Development & Administration
Dubai Harvard Foundation for Medical Research

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