QF launches stem cell research excellence centre
DOHA QATAR Foundation on Monday announced the launch of its ‘Center for Excellence in Stem Cell Research’.
Making the announcement, Vice President for Research at Qatar Foundation Dr Abdelali Haoudi said the centre will become functional this year and will be part of Qatar Foundation’s Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI). It will serve as a link between the institute’s many research focuses, which include research on diabetes, cancer, and neurological and cardiovascular diseases.
Dr Haoudi made the announcement in course of his speech at the Qatar International Conference on Stem Cell Science and Policy 2012 which opened at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) on Monday.
Pointing out that stem cell research a national priority in Qatar, he said that the objective of the center was to conduct research particularly in diabetes and cancer as the first focus research area.
“It is not that we have just launched a new centre but have been investing for the last three years in young Qataris who have been conducting research in stem cell in some of the prominent organisations worldwide. Some of them will be coming back soon to play an active role in the stem cell research activities in Qatar,” he said.
Research is one of the aspects of the stem cell scenario while training, ethics and policy are the other components, he pointed out. There will be close collaboration with organisations like Virgin Health Bank which has been storing stem cells for research purposes in Qatar.
“All these things have been going on for the last three years and now we have reached an eco system where we are able to conduct research on stem cells with our regional partners,” he added.
Addressing the gathering, Founding Director of James A Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, Ambassador Edward P Djerejian who has worked in the US Foreign Service for eight presidents from John F Kennedy to Bill Clinton said that the theories and practice of stem cell policy are essential for international dialogue.
“Stem cell research is in line with Islamic practices and the fatwa issued by the Muslim scholars to allow the use of embryonic cells for research and therapy is a breakthrough in the field and a great opportunity in stem cell research,” he said stressing the need for collaboration.
In his keynote address, Dr David Baltimore, Nobel Laureate in Physiology of Medicine and President of Emeritus of the California Institute of Technology, highlighted the importance of stem cells.
He said “Stem cells can provide normal function but also, because they self-renew, they are the ideal carriers of therapeutic genes. Stem cell science stands out within the biomedical research field because of its many promising potential applications, which include the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of these and many other lifethreatening illnesses.” Since genetic medicine is still at an experimental stage, there is tremendous opportunity for innovation and for new players to make significant contributions in the field.
He also discussed some of the technologies developed by his team to improve the working of the body’s immune system named.
Talking about the uses of gene therapy, Dr Baltimore said it could be employed in the treatment of diseases like HIV and cancer. He also highlighted its use in protection against viral diseases.
Present day HIV treatment involves ‘highly effective but potentially toxic drugs’, he reminded and pointed out that they ‘never eliminate the virus’, are very expensive and require life-long medication.
In contrast, he said there is at least one instance of a person who has been ‘functionally cured’ using the gene therapy.
The opening session also had a panel discussion on opportunities and challenges in stem cell research in which some of the international luminaries shed light on prevailing practices in stem cell research.