More than 650 scientists and healthcare professionals from around the UAE attended the Dubai Harvard Foundation for Medical Research first annual symposium, “Today’s Science, Tomorrow’s Cures,” on March 26, 2006 at the Johara Ballroom in Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah resort. Part of a two-day celebration to observe the official launch of the Foundation, this symposium featured some of Harvard’s most eminent heads of research, who discussed recent breakthroughs in the management of cancer, heart and neurodegenerative disease, and highlighted new inter-institutional and multidisciplinary work that enables basic science research to be translated into effective treatments at a speed never seen before. The symposium was co-chaired by Dr. Robert Thurer, Executive Director of the Foundation and Chief Academic Officer of the Harvard Medical School Dubai Center (HMSDC) Institute for Postgraduate Education and Research, and Dr. Ayesha Al-Mutawa MBBS/MD, MPH, Director of Central Department of Health Education at the UAE Ministry of Health.

Dr. Nancy Andrews, Dean for Basic Sciences and Graduate Studies at Harvard Medical School described the breadth of research that is published in a typical month at the Medical School. Dr. Peter Howley, head of Harvard’s Department of Pathology, spoke about recent advances in preventing and treating cancer. Dr. Howley’s research into understanding how certain viruses can trigger some cancers has led to development of a new anti-viral vaccine to prevent cervical cancer that was submitted for approval last year. This work is leading to other new therapies which may ultimately prevent additional lethal forms of cancer.

Similarly, the research efforts of Dr. Mohamed Sayegh, Professor of Transplantation Medicine at Harvard Medical School, another of the featured speakers, seeks to capitalize on the study of the body’s immune system to improve the success of organ transplantation. Dr. Sayegh, who directs the Transplant Research Center, a joint collaboration of Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital, discussed how he and fellow researchers are studying the role of T cell recognition in organ rejection, and investigating novel approaches for increasing transplantation tolerance. “The ultimate goal is to make it possible for patients to be immunologically tolerant to unlimited numbers of organs, so that their bodies don’t view the organs as foreign,” Dr. Sayegh told the symposium’s audience.

One of the symposium’s most notable attendees was Dr. Eugene Braunwald, Hersey Professor of Theory and Practice of Physic at Harvard Medical School, the cardiologist who revolutionized the field of cardiology three decades ago with his discovery that atherosclerosis, the cause of heart attacks, was a progressive disease. The aggressiveness with which doctors today monitor their patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol levels can be traced to Dr. Braunwald’s work. At the symposium, Dr. Braunwald traced the advances in knowledge and practice in cardiology, and drew attention to new discoveries on the horizon. He also emphasized the importance of supporting scientists as well as the infrastructure and technology required for their work.

“At no time in human history has the potential been greater for translating biological knowledge and technological capability into powerful toolsfor preventing and treating disease and caring for our communities’ health,” said Dr. Braunwald. “However, the landmark developments in genetics, bioengineering, neuroscience, and molecular and structural biology that have occurred during the past 20 years will mean little in practical terms if clinical researchers are unable to translate this science into new and effective medical and health practices.”

Dr. Joseph Martin, Dean of Harvard Medical School, closed the symposium with a presentation on how scientists in Harvard’s Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair are utilizing molecular approaches to finding new potential treatments for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. “Crucial to developing therapies to treat the diseases is gaining an understanding of how they attack the brain,” said Dean Martin. “Researchers have been able to isolate the factors that lead to cell death, and determine how plaques and tangles disrupt the signaling between cells. These advances in our knowledge about neurodegenerative disease have led to dozens of drug discovery initiatives and clinical trials.”

Mr. Saeed Al Muntafiq, CEO of Tatweer and a principal figure in the Dubai’s partnership with Harvard’s medical community, noted that healthcare research is at the heart of every advanced world-class health care system. “Scientific research had been at the heart of our Arab world for many years, but recently it has virtually ceased to exist. Hence, the need to create this Foundation to develop and encourage scientific research of a world standard,” he concluded.

Dr. Robert Thurer noted that the symposium marked the beginning of a resurgence in scientific discovery in the Gulf Region. “The scientific research presented at this symposium provided a glimpse of the kinds of collaborative research initiatives that we hope to stimulate and support through the Foundation,” he said. “We have the opportunity to bring scientists from the Gulf Region into interconnected teams of researchers pursuing new knowledge that will have a global impact on medicine.”

As part of its mission to both raise awareness of biomedical developments and build research collaborations between labs in the Gulf region and the Harvard medical community, the Foundation aims to hold regular forums on the life sciences, including an annual symposium.