Preventive healthcare technology — the future of medicine?

The concept of preventive healthcare technology was explained by Emmanuel Fombu, a physician and the author of ‘The Future of Healthcare.’ (AN)
Updated 05 November 2019

Preventive healthcare technology — the future of medicine?

  • Author Emmanuel Fombu: Personal medical decisions will be influenced by data
  • Fombu spoke at two-day EmTech MENA conference in Dubai

DUBAI: When we feel unwell, we usually turn to a doctor for answers. But what if we were able to find out the diseases we are susceptible to and how to avoid falling ill?
The concept of preventive healthcare technology was explained by Emmanuel Fombu, a physician and the author of “The Future of Healthcare,” on the second day of the EmTech MENA conference at Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai.
Many believe that human genes are the main determinants of our disease risks based on family history.
Fombu believes that personal decisions made around data can change the world of medical care.
“Genes are just the beginning of your life story. Just because you have the genes for a disease, does not mean that you will get it. Your decisions make all the difference,” he said.
Environmental and socioeconomic factors play a key role in determining the probability of developing many diseases, with lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise being crucial to living a disease-free life.
However, Fombu argues that each individual is unique, and therefore requires a unique diet plan, medicine and treatment — a concept that is not currently practised.
Drugs analyzed in most clinical trials are tested on a small sample of people, often consisting of white men and very few women, before they are taken to the market for nationwide use, said Fombu.
“What is depressing in healthcare today is this concept of medicine. Two people suffering from diabetes are not the same,” said Fombu, adding that even twins who share the same gene pool are not destined to develop the same conditions.
Studies in the US have also shown disparity in disease rates in different parts of the same city, based on socioeconomic factors.
“Take diabetes in China. It went from 0.67 percent in 1980 to 9.7 percent in 2011,” Fombu said.
“Did their genes change? Or did people get wealthier and perhaps eat more junk food?”
Fombu highlighted existing and upcoming devices that work on monitoring and predicting disease, providing unique data to each patient.
He said research is underway to enable Apple Watch and other specialized fitness brands to be able to use voice to predict conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and even aid in suicide prevention.
Fombu favors leveraging technologies that give individuals more power over their health through personalized data.
One example is a phone-sized ultrasound device manufactured by a company called Butterfly Network, which can be used through automated instructions by patients at home.
“Why wait to get sick before you intervene? Why not understand the risk of disease going forward and modify your lifestyle?” said Fombu.
Moving from physical health to mental health, speaker Jason Kahn, chief science officer and cofounder of video game “Mightier,” discussed tackling mental health through AI technology.
“Mightier” helps children aged between 6 and 14 to develop emotional strength and build calming skills to meet life challenges.
The game, which is connected to users’ emotions, monitors their feelings and reactions while they go through the different stages.
“There are not enough mental health workers around. Studies show there is one mental health worker for every 11,000 people in the world who need care,” said Kahn.
After a comparison between traditional office-based therapy and AI therapy through “Mightier,” Kahn found that 80 percent of children playing the game showed improvement, as opposed to only 20 percent in regular therapy.
“We need to find new solutions,” he said.
The EmTech MENA conference, which took place on Nov. 4 and 5, was organized by “MIT Technology Review Arabia” in cooperation with the Dubai Future Foundation and Haykal Media.
The two-day event featured 31 prominent regional and international speakers including government officials, researchers and entrepreneurs.


Saudi women researchers win major science award

Altalhi’s research in donor-less organ transplants is designed to counter end-stage organ failure, a leading cause of death worldwide. (supplied)
Updated 12 November 2019

Saudi women researchers win major science award

  • Each of the researchers was awarded a grant in recognition of their outstanding achievements
  • According to the Saudi Cancer Registry, leukaemia is the fifth most common cancer among both men and women

DUBAI: A passion for science and years of hard work has put two Saudi women researchers in the spotlight following their groundbreaking studies on organ transplant alternatives and stem cell treatments. 

Wafa Audeh Altalhi and Asma Al-Amoodi were among the six female scientists honored at the sixth edition of the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Middle East Fellowship awards in Dubai.

Each of the researchers was awarded a grant in recognition of their outstanding achievements. Altalhi received €20,000 ($22,000) in the postdoctorate researchers category, while Al-Amoodi received €8,000 in the PhD students category.

The 21-year-old initiative empowers women in science and highlight the value of their achievements, while promoting gender equality. So far the program has supported more than 3,100 women and rewarded 107 laureates, granting doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships in 117 countries.

Altalhi’s research in donor-less organ transplants is designed to counter end-stage organ failure, a leading cause of death worldwide.  

“The transplant waiting list has been increasing in recent years, putting immense pressure on patients in terms of hospital expenses. My research uses a patient’s own stem cells to build replacing organs as an alternative to allogenic organ transplants,” she said.

Altalhi’s focus is on bioengineering patient-specific and donor-less organs by making specialized tissue and organs ready for transplant when needed.

“Awards like this provide a platform where candidates and their contributions are examined by experts. I believe that this is important to promote healthy competence in the scientific field and push innovation forward,” Altalhi said.

Before becoming a science laureate, Altalhi attended Umm Al-Qura University, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in laboratory medicine.

She went on to complete a master’s degree in cellular and molecular medicine, followed by a PhD in laboratory medicine and pathobiology at the University of Ottawa and Toronto in Canada.

“I am now doing my postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University and the Center for Organ Bioengineering at Massachusetts general hospital,” she said.

Meanwhile, furthering research in stem cell treatments for cancer patients is Al-Amoodi’s top priority.

She is convinced that more can be done to treat hematological diseases through stem cell research.

According to the Saudi Cancer Registry, leukaemia is the fifth most common cancer among both men and women.

With limited therapy options and a high number of patients in the Kingdom, Al-Amoodi is determined to improve the efficiency of bone marrow transplants through her research.

“This award is about overcoming all limitations and challenges I have faced. The award has turned my dream to do something for our society into reality,” she said.

Al-Amoodi has a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory technology and a master’s degree in biology. She plans to pursue her PhD studies in stem cell adhesion mechanism.