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Health

Introduction

The world has faced, during progress and development, many challenges in different fields including the health sector. Scientists and researchers have persevered to find effective treatments for many chronic and serious diseases.

Introduction

The percentage of Saudi local expenditure in the Health sector is estimated to be 35%, whereas expenditure on imports was estimated to be 65%. Improving the health sector will contribute to reducing SAR 400 billion over the next five years. Through the National Transformation Program 2020, KACST has provided an initiative to localize and develop technology within the sectors that have large local expenditure. This initiative includes the localization and transfer of health technology to support and enhance the local content in this sector with the aim of reducing health care costs and training and qualifying national human resources specialized in health-related fields.

The health initiative consists of a group of specialized technical projects as follows:

  • The Saudi Human Genome, which is a personalized and preventive medicine that aims to reduce health care costs using genome technology. This project depends on the localization and transfer of the Next Generation Sequencing that detects and determines mutations causing inherited diseases in the Saudi population.
  • Localization and development of a technical platform to detect infectious diseases. This project aims to establish a national database for infectious diseases in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that will contribute to the detection and control of infectious diseases.
  • Localization and development of Nanomedicine that aims to localize the manufacturing of Nano-particles that can contribute to the study of diseases and treatment.
  • Localization and development of stem cell technology that aims to localize modern stem cell technologies to treat and control the common chronic diseases in the Kingdom.

Projects

The Saudi Human Genome Program (SHGP) is one of the largest projects in the National Transformation Program 2020. It aims to transfer and develop genetic testing that will have a positive impact on public health and the national economy. This program depends on the transfer and localization of the next generation sequencing which is used to detect mutations causing inherited diseases.

The program has developed 13 gene panels covering over 5,000 inherited diseases. The SHGP has sequenced over 10,000 samples from Saudi patients with inherited diseases that resulted in the identification of more than 2,000 variants underlying these diseases. More than 500 of these variants were present in multiple patients and could be considered as “Saudi mutations”. The presence of these mutations in the Saudi population has resulted in a significant incidence of newborns with inherited disorders, having relatively high mortality and morbidity. The economic and social cost to the Kingdom resulting from these disorders is very high. Conservative estimates place the lifetime healthcare cost to the community resulting from these 500 or so “Saudi Mutations” at SR 6.4 billion annually. The Ministry of Health has for almost 10 years conducted a mandatory pre-marital screening program for Sickle Cell Anemia, thalassemia and communicable diseases. This has been delivered through a network of 127 collection centers, 94 laboratories and 117 genetic counselling clinics. Importantly, 60% of couples who were founded to carry sickle cell or thalassemia genes have decided not to go ahead with a planned marriage; thus, reducing the likelihood of having children with inherited disorder. On the basis of this experience, expansion of this genetic testing could result in the significant reduction of infants born with inherited disorders. Conservatively, operation of this program, based upon the experience with current screening, would result in annual savings of SAR 3.84 billion in healthcare cost. In addition to the almost immediate benefits of the program outlined above, the SHGP will result in diagnostics beyond inherited diseases (such as cancer, transplantation, and infectious diseases), more effective treatment and lower costs through personalized medicine (pharmacogenetics) and targeted therapies (cancer), which are all aligned with the goals of the National Transformation Program 2020 and Vision 2030.

This project aims to establish a Nanomedicine research laboratory to facilitate the localization and development of Nanomedicine in the Kingdom. It will provide promising solutions to manage unmet medical challenges through synthesizing the next generations of Nano-formulations that are safe and capable of delivering drugs with both high precision and efficacy.

The program aims to invent novel nano-sized approaches to control the biodistribution of loaded drugs when administered in-vivo through magnetization. In addition, the program aims to localize smart Nano-formulations for targeted gene therapy. Nanomedicine-based technologies can revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of medical diseases. The Nanomedicine research laboratory will be established, supervised and run by a qualified scientific team that is multidisciplinary, coming from various science backgrounds such as medicine, biology, chemistry, material sciences and engineering. The Nanomedicine research laboratory will be responsible for initiating research collaborations with academic and industrial research centers in addition to recruiting and training the next generation of Saudi scientists.

Many drugs have failed clinical trial testing as a result of high-toxicity or poor bioavailability, but these issues can be overcome by preparing formulations that can control drug release rate or improve the bioavailability of the active pharmaceutical ingredient. This project aims to investigate the possibility of using the non-toxic, biodegradable and environmentally benign porous material known as CD-MOF. This material is a metal-organic framework (MOF) that is constructed from cheap and readily available γ-cyclodextrin (γ-CD) and salts such as potassium chloride. Given the porous nature of these materials, the goals of this drug delivery project are: (i) develop pharmaceutically-relevant formulations with well known non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, (ii) develop methods using CD-MOF to separate drug mixtures in order to recover the pharmaceutically-active version of the drug, (iii) investigate means by which to control the rate of release of drugs within CD-MOF, and (iv) prepare CD-MOF formulations of drugs that have previously been found to be unsuitable for clinical use and determine if these formulations improve bioavailability of these drugs.

Nanoparticles offer important biotechnological applications including drug delivery. It is important to rationally design Nanoparticles with minimum in-vivo toxicity. This project studies the cytotoxicity of CHO-k1 cells treated with either chitosan Nanoparticles (CS NPs) or hyaluronic acid-coated chitosan Nanoparticles (HA-CS NPS).

Cells were exposed to varying concentrations of CS NPs and HA-CS NPS. Concentrations of 2.5 and 0.25 mg / mL of CS NPs showed a decrease in cell viability. An increase in the secretion of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) was detected at such high concentrations. The mitochondrial membrane potential was compromised as well with a significant increase in the activity of caspase-3. Interestingly, treated cells showed a transient elevation of the (SOD) enzymes; later depletion of SOD was observed at high concentrations. The team of this project has found that the toxicity of chitosan Nanoparticles could be reduced when coated with hyaluronic acid. CHO-K1 cells showed no apparent toxicity when exposed to HA-CS NPS.

Scientists and researchers have diligently tried to find a cure for many diseases such as cancer, renal failure, diabetes and liver diseases. There are many medical discoveries that vastly helped in the development of many pharmaceutical and therapeutical paradigms. Interestingly, the discovery of stem cells has gained a lot of attention due to their promising capabilities for treating many incurable diseases.

Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have the ability to differentiate into specialized somatic cells such as liver, muscle, blood and other cell types with specialized functions. Stem cells are also characterized by their infinite proliferative properties and hence act as reparative machinery to replace dead and malfunctioning cells.

Stem cell research is now considered one of the most reckoned medical research aspects as scientists have successfully transplanted stem cells and enticed them to differentiate into specialized cells for the treatment of different disease conditions. These specialized cells may also be used in vitro disease modeling to study and discover the effects of different pharmaceutical compounds.

One of the forefront applications of stem cell therapy is cancer treatment. The mesenchymal stem cells natural ability to head towards and infiltrate cancer niche has allowed researchers to genetically modify them to secrete cell death proteins. For example, tumor necrosis factor that can selectively target cancer cells and thus not attacking healthy cells, adds more value to using stem cells as cellular vehicles.

KACST plays a pioneering and fundamental role in establishing research partnerships with several advanced research centers around the globe to reach innovative therapies for different diseases that are becoming more prevalent in the Kingdom such as diabetes, obesity, and cancer, by using applications of stem cells research that have attained unprecedented global attention. Therefore, KACST has founded a national center specializing in stem cell research - the National Center for Stem Cell Technology “NCSCT”. The NCSCT will drive advanced applied research in stem cell and regenerative medicine through the creation of partnerships with different national research centers with main focus on technology transfer and localization, in pursuit of Vision 2030.

Technetium-99m is widely used for diagnosis and imaging in nuclear medicine, and can be produced by the cyclotron bombardment of molybdenum-100 targets. Therefore, within the scope of this project, molybdenum-100 targets will be produced and manufactured. There are three main stages to produce molybdenum-100 targets which are:

  • Produce and manufacture raw materials.
  • Enhance molybdenum-100 isotope concentration and purity.
  • Molybdenum-100 deposition.

The above stages are well prepared, applying the latest technology along with the highest safety standards. The designs for these facilities have been proposed and the final cost of production processes has been estimated. The feasibility study has been conducted considering several laboratory experiments to investigate the main factors of molybdenum-100 production. Initially, 3 Kg of molybdenum-100 will be produced per year, which will satisfy the Kingdom’s medical needs. The outcome of this project will benefit medical facilities operating in the fields of nuclear medicine.