July 26, 2023

How Abu Dhabi aims to be a regional hub for organ regeneration

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 26 July 2023: A stem cell centre in Abu Dhabi is on a mission to become a regional hub in the treatment of diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and end-stage organ failure.

Scientists at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre are working around the clock to use stem cells for repairing and regenerating organs.

Speaking to The National, Dr Yendry Ventura, Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre chief executive, and Dr Fatima Al Kaabi, executive director of Abu Dhabi Bone Marrow Transplant, believe this is just the “tip of the iceberg", with the procedure expected to start within five to six years.

"My ambition is a world in which we don’t have to wait many years for a donor to give me a kidney while I am attached to a machine," said Dr Ventura.

Stem cells are produced by bone marrow and can be turned into different types of blood cells.

A stem cell or bone marrow transplant replaces damaged blood cells with healthier ones. The procedure is often used to treat conditions affecting blood cells, including leukaemia and lymphoma.

UAE is advancing in stem cell therapy

The UAE has made significant strides in stem cell therapy, which is viewed as key to enhancing health care, particularly in cancer treatment and life expectancy.

In 2022, the UAE successfully completed a bone-marrow transplantby using longer-term cryogenic freezing of healthy cells.
Dr Al Kaabi helped launch the bone marrow transplant programme at ADSCC, which is owned by the PureHealth group, in 2020.

The centre aims to perform at least 60 bone marrow transplants each year.

This is a medical milestones for the UAE "but what is yet to come, is unimaginable,” Dr Ventura said.

“Bone marrow transplants or Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation doesn’t necessarily mean that the stem cells are curing the disease," said Dr Ventura.

"It is a way to repair or regenerate bone marrow that has been affected by chemotherapy.

"So technically what we are doing is regenerating the bone marrow.”

There are three types of transplants:
  • Autologous – where the donor is the patient
  • Allogeneic – where the stem cells are from a donor who shares the same genetic type as the patient
  • Syngeneic – where stem cells from an identical twin are used
If stem cells are used to regenerate organs without rejection from the body, it could put an end to many of the most common diseases, which occur when cells or whole organs fail to do their job, he added.

“We want to take it a step forward and use stem cells for the regeneration of tissues and organs such kidneys or a liver or a pancreas,” said Dr Ventura.

“We want to think how a donor can help us repair a kidney – this is one of our capital projects – kidney regeneration – creating artificial organs outside the body from stem cells.

“We are getting closer and closer to tissue regeneration, but we have a lot of challenges.

"There are many ethical pathways that we need to follow and respect in terms of harvesting stem cells and in terms of consent of donors and so forth, but the good news is that it is possible and that we getting there."

Currently, in the UAE there are strict regulations for the use of any form of stem cells other than a person’s own or those belonging to a matching related donor.

“The use of stem cells from different sources should be studied further to allow us to answer unanswered questions such as the scientific causes of miscarriages or unprovoked abortions," Dr Al Kaabi said.

"We are making a statement and pushing for it as a scientific and ethical perspective to apply it in the right set up and the right regulations – if there is a potential of using any type of cell for the advancement of humankind then I am an advocate for it."

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