One of the main challenges of any modern healthcare system is the integration of cutting-edge, smart technology to use the power of these technologies to prevent diseases or establish the correct diagnosis and treatment
One of the main challenges of any modern healthcare system is the integration of cutting-edge, smart technology to not only collect and store patient data but also to use the power of these technologies to prevent diseases or establish the correct diagnosis and treatment.
Vision 2030 provides a road map towards achieving this within the Kingdom's healthcare system. Towards this end, and to play a leading role in this endeavor, KAUST has recently launched a multidisciplinary scientific and clinical research and innovation health initiative dubbed the KAUST Smart-Health Initiative (SHI).
A national mission
The mission of the SHI is to establish strong collaboration and work in synergy with top in-Kingdom hospitals and academic institutions to pave the way towards the implementation of smart-health tools and methods in the Saudi healthcare system. The implementation of these technologies is required for the modernization of the Kingdom's healthcare system and for its transition from the traditional medicine approach—one-size-fits-all—to the precision and personalized medicine era.
The development and implementation of precision medicine tools and methods become more pressing when it comes to widespread, multifactorial, and debilitating diseases such as metabolic syndrome disorders, genetic and infectious diseases. The main issue facing the treatments of these diseases is that despite the existence of easily identifiable triggers to onset and progression, response to traditional treatment varies between individual patients.
It is now well-established that the genetic and metabolomic profiles—the lifestyle and the environment of a patient—play a vital role in the response to treatment. The multifactorial nature of these diseases and their prevalence within the kingdom have made them ideal candidates for precision medicine tools and methods.
The mission of the KAUST-SHI is to develop and use smart health technologies and methods to support and promote translational health research programs that transform fundamental scientific discoveries into practical clinical tools and solutions for prevalent diseases.
In collaboration with top hospitals and Medical schools in the Kingdom, KAUST-SHI will launch programs to train the new generation of clinicians and scientists, who will become experts in the usage and application of precision medicine tools and principles. The goal is that these trainees will lead the way to translate fundamental findings in the laboratory to diagnostic and treatment tools to tackle various diseases with local and global impact.
A four-part approach
The KAUST-SHI has four, interconnected pillars, all of which support the overall mission, as well as, most importantly, the Kingdom's goals as part of Vision 2030.
Bench to bedside
The SHI will sponsor research programs that turn basic science findings, into effective treatments. These carefully chosen programs will be world-class clinical research projects that aim to develop precision-medicine tools and approaches. In particular, programs that aim to develop tools for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases prevalent within the kingdom such as genetic and metabolomic diseases.
Further, the SHI will develop the use of precision-medicine tools to combat infectious diseases such as the recent COVID-19 outbreak as well as others that affect the Kingdom and the region. Future inquiry will seek to expand into the study of transmittable pathogens on patients suffering from prevalent diseases within the Kingdom such as CVD and cancer.
The SHI will establish collaborative working relationships funded by the University. These will take the form of collaborative grants between scientists at KAUST and clinicians and scientists from KFSHRC, KAIMRC, and other top hospitals in the Kingdom. The goal of these grants is to provide funds to test a new hypothesis and to provide proof of principle for the application of new approaches to address health-related questions relevant to the kingdom and the region.
The SHI will educate and train the next generation of precision-medicine professionals. M.D./Ph.D. programs, as well as professional M.Sc. programs in precision medicine, will be launched at a future date. The SHI will also seek to hire world-class faculty members in collaboration with various Divisions at KAUST, for the purposes of supporting the growth and work of precision-medicine experts in the Kingdom.
The SHI will develop a hub for biomedical innovation. The main goal of the hub will be to provide and attract technology platforms, human capital, training programs, and a clinical trial coordination center, as well as the network of stakeholders—academia, hospitals, industry, and startups—needed to address the current gaps in clinical care and R&D.
Photo: KAUST President Tony Chan (left) and Minister of Health H.E. Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah (right) sign a Memorandum of Understanding to launch collaboration integral to the KAUST Smart-Health Initiative.