Scientists see chance for research breakthrough under Saudi longevity program

Scientists see chance for research breakthrough under Saudi longevity program
Saudi officials attend the inauguration of the Seha Virtual Hospital in the Digital City of the Saudi capital Riaydh on Feb. 28, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 09 December 2023
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Scientists see chance for research breakthrough under Saudi longevity program

Scientists see chance for research breakthrough under Saudi longevity program
  • Hevolution Foundation pledges $1bn a year to incentivize longevity research and startups around the world
  • Scientists say Saudi efforts can redefine global healthcare, which is based on treatment instead of prevention

SINGAPORE: Saudi efforts to develop healthspan science are enabling research and democratizing strategies to keep people healthy, the world’s leading longevity scientists say, as the Kingdom supports disruptive ideas to reverse aspects of aging. 

Launched in 2021, as part of the Saudi Vision 2030, the Riyadh-based non-profit Hevolution Foundation provides grants to incentivize independent research and entrepreneurship in longevity. 

Overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Hevolution pledges investment of $1 billion a year into efforts to understand the processes of aging and to find and render accessible ways to increase the number of years people live in good health. 

“The goal is to really extend the healthy years of life. It’s to push our healthy longevity much further, which is something that will benefit every country and every person on Earth,” said Dr. Brian Kennedy, distinguished professor of biochemistry and physiology at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine of the National University of Singapore.

“I think it’s a really noble initiative to try to bring healthcare technology that’s just emerging to the forefront as quickly as possible.” 

Kennedy, who focuses on understanding the biology of aging and translating research discoveries into addressing and preventing diseases associated with aging, spoke to Arab News on the sidelines of the Advanced Tomorrow 2023 Singapore Summit, which was hosted by the NUS this week. 

A member of Hevolution’s scientific advisory board, he said that the foundation supports both academic initiatives and private sector development, as aging research has been greatly underfunded globally. 

“They’re going to fund projects around the world, not just in Saudi or the US, but everywhere,” Kennedy said. “They’re enabling research to democratize strategies that keep people healthy longer.” 

The efforts also have the potential to redefine the current approach to healthcare, which is waiting until people become ill and only then treating them. 

“It doesn’t work because once people get sick, they’ve lost equilibrium. The homeostatic process is to keep them healthy throughout their life … They almost never recover fully to the healthy state (they were in) before they got sick,” Kennedy said. 

“Everybody should be treated when they get sick, but we should be putting an equal amount of effort (into) trying to keep them healthy because that’s what you really want. You don’t want to get treated effectively for Alzheimer’s; you don’t want to get the Alzheimer’s. It’s the early stuff that’s going to keep you from getting sick.” 

In many cases, age-associated illness such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, or dementia is not only treatable but also preventable, saving society and individuals from unnecessary financial and emotional burden. 

For Prof. Luigi Fontana from the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney, who focuses on preventative medicine and the role of nutrition and physical exercise in slowing age-associated chronic disease, the current medical system “is not healthcare but ‘sickcare,’” as it is designed to treat disease instead of preventing it. 

“Most people spend their last 20 years in bad shape, taking multiple medications, in hospital, with cancer, stroke, dementia … It’s terrible because it’s a huge cost on society and also on a personal level, family level,” he told Arab News, adding that no country will be able to afford it in the next two decades. 

“The new line of research around the biology of aging is that many of the common chronic diseases that we see now in hospitals are preventable. The World Health Organization claims that at least 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable. Data from my lab suggests it’s much higher than that.” 

Research into longevity promises not only ways to allow people to have a better quality of life as they age but also to reduce healthcare costs. 

“There are certain pathways, aging pathways, that are controlling the accumulation of metabolic molecular damage leading to multiple diseases. By blocking or inhibiting these pathways, you can prevent multiple diseases at once, so that people would be living healthier. And, typically, when you increase the healthspan, you also increase the lifespan,” Fontana said. 

“It’s backed by a lot of science … Now we have to translate it into humans to develop biomarkers, a range of interventions that are going to keep people healthier for long.” 

For him, programs like Hevolution provide the chance to advance research in the field much faster than state institutions would, as “typically, with philanthropy, they like disruptive ideas” and “it’s like angel investment.” 

Last week, Hevolution partnered with XPrize Foundation and announced a $101 million prize for the first group of researchers that can reverse aspects of aging by 10 years. 

“It’s a great idea,” said Noah Molinski, head of research at Von Ardenne Institute of Applied Medical Research in Dresden, Germany.

“The big problem is how we can bring our innovation to the real world. Researchers have a lot of ideas, but without money, they cannot bring a real impact.” 

Hevolution’s $1 billion a year investment into longevity research and startups is the highest such pledge globally. 

“It aligns a lot with the Saudi Vision 2030. They recognized earlier than others how important longevity is because people can only work to a certain age and normal medicine helps you to prolong your life, but that doesn’t mean that you will have a higher number of years with a higher quality of life,” Molinski said. 

“You have to somehow align this (idea) that people live longer but also that the lives lived longer have to be of higher quality. And that’s the main goal of longevity.” 


Kingdom arrests 14,955 illegals in one week

Kingdom arrests 14,955 illegals in one week
Updated 02 March 2024
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Kingdom arrests 14,955 illegals in one week

Kingdom arrests 14,955 illegals in one week

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested 14,955 people in one week for breaching residency, work and border security regulations, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

According to an official report, a total of 9,080 people were arrested for violations of residency laws, while 3,088 were held over illegal border crossing attempts, and a further 2,787 for labor-related issues.

The report showed that among the 849 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 42 percent were Yemeni, 56 percent Ethiopian, and 2 percent were of other nationalities.

A further 99 people were caught trying to cross into neighboring countries, and six were held for involvement in transporting and harboring violators.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior said that anyone found to be facilitating illegal entry to the Kingdom, including providing transportation and shelter, could face imprisonment for a maximum of 15 years, a fine of up to SR1 million ($260,000), as well as confiscation of vehicles and property.

Suspected violations can be reported on the toll-free number 911 in the Makkah and Riyadh regions, and 999 or 996 in other regions of the Kingdom.


OIC to host meeting on Israeli aggression

OIC to host meeting on Israeli aggression
Updated 02 March 2024
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OIC to host meeting on Israeli aggression

OIC to host meeting on Israeli aggression
  • The session will be held at the headquarters of the OIC in Jeddah on Tuesday

Jeddah: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation will hold an extraordinary meeting of its Council of Foreign Ministers to discuss the continuing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

The session will be held at the headquarters of the OIC in Jeddah on Tuesday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

OIC Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha is expected to address the opening session, which will be preceded by a preparatory senior officials’ meeting on March 4 to discuss and adopt the draft agenda and work program, and consider the draft resolution before submitting it to the Council of Foreign Ministers the following day.

On Oct. 11, 2023, Saudi Arabia hosted the extraordinary Joint Arab and Islamic Summit in Riyadh, organized by the OIC and the Arab League. The conference adopted several decisions, in particular assigning a committee of foreign ministers of member states to tour world capitals and international organizations in an effort to stop the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

As part of its continued efforts to stop the brutal Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people since Oct. 7, the OIC held an open-ended executive committee extraordinary meeting at the level of foreign ministers at its headquarters on Oct. 18.

The OIC has also renewed its urgent call for the international community to intervene urgently to stop the crimes of genocide committed by the Israeli occupation, provide international protection for Palestinian civilians, and ensure the arrival of basic supplies and permanent urgent humanitarian relief.


Saudi academy signs deal with Thai university to promote language cooperation

Saudi academy signs deal with Thai university to promote language cooperation
Updated 02 March 2024
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Saudi academy signs deal with Thai university to promote language cooperation

Saudi academy signs deal with Thai university to promote language cooperation
  • Agreement was signed as part of the Human Capability Initiative Conferenc

Riyadh: The King Salman Global Academy for the Arabic Language signed a memorandum of understanding in Riyadh with Prince of Songkla University, Thailand, “to enhance mutual cooperation in dissemination of the Arabic language.”

The agreement was signed as part of the Human Capability Initiative Conference, which began on Wednesday under the patronage of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

KSGAAL was represented by its Secretary-General, Abdullah Al-Washmi, while Prince Songkla University was represented by its President, Niwat Keawpradub.

The MoU is also aimed at strengthening “teaching, preservation, and fostering scientific and practical relations to mutually benefit and achieve strategic objectives.”

Collaboration will also take place in: Arabic language and its sciences, Arabic language computing, building digital dictionaries, linguistic blogs, developing assistive digital solutions, cooperation in curricula and tools related to teaching Arabic to non-native speakers, administering proficiency tests in Arabic for non-native speakers, and sharing linguistic services and consultations in areas of mutual interest.

The agreement comes within the strategic objectives of the KSGAAL in spreading the Arabic language at the local and international levels, said Al-Washmi.

He told Arab News that Thailand is one of the targeted countries to open Arabic language education centers in coming years as part of KSGAAL’s strategy, which includes establishing a number of centers in countries around the world.

A high-level delegation from the KSGAAL recently visited Thailand and conducted a program that included seminars and discussion sessions to study the status of the Arabic language in the country, he added.

The MoU falls within the initiatives of the KSGAAL, its strategic partnerships with entities concerned with local and international Arabic linguistic development.

These initiatives aim to enhance the level of usage of the Arabic language, strengthen its presence, and preserve it in line with the Human Capability Development Program, one of the programs realizing Saudi Vision 2030.

KSGAAL was established by a decision of the Council of Ministers and is one of the initiatives of the Ministry of Culture aimed at enhancing the role of the Arabic language regionally and globally.

It was established in September 2020 to highlight the status of the Arabic language and activate its role regionally and globally, as well as to enhance its value as an expression of the linguistic depth of Arab and Islamic culture.

KSGAAL works on spreading the Arabic language and ensuring the integrity of its usage in various fields, revitalizing its heritage through study, research, and dissemination, in addition to unifying scientific reference internally regarding the Arabic language and its sciences, and working to achieve this externally.


Jeddah Al-Balad’s new heritage hotels offer glimpse into bygone era

Jeddah Al-Balad’s new heritage hotels offer glimpse into bygone era
Updated 01 March 2024
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Jeddah Al-Balad’s new heritage hotels offer glimpse into bygone era

Jeddah Al-Balad’s new heritage hotels offer glimpse into bygone era
  • Launched by the Historic District Program, the restored houses fuse region’s rich history with contemporary comforts

JEDDAH: Nestled in the heart of Jeddah’s historic district are heritage hotels launched by the Jeddah Historic District Program under the patronage of the Ministry of Culture and in partnership with Al-Balad Development Co.

These hotels, including Beit Jokhdar, Beit Al-Rayess and Beit Kedwan, have been meticulously restored while preserving their architectural features to provide guests with an authentic glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the region.

The restoration and rehabilitation of these heritage hotels was carried out in alignment with the highest international standards and the guidelines set out by UNESCO, which designated Jeddah Historic District as a World Heritage Site in 2014.

The opening of the first three heritage hotels in Jeddah Historic District marks a significant milestone in efforts to preserve and promote cultural heritage. (Instagram/jeddahalbalad.sa)

Tariq Omar Al-Saggaf, the project manager, told Arab News about the extensive work involved in reviving about 600 heritage buildings in the area. “These buildings are not only being restored but also repurposed for various functions ranging from hotels to residential, administrative, commercial and cultural purposes,” he said.

Through a harmonious blend of historical restoration and modern hospitality, these hotels offer guests an opportunity to immerse themselves in the rich history and architecture of one of Saudi Arabia’s most iconic districts.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The recent agreement between the Jeddah Historic District Program and Al-Balad Development Co. signals a new chapter in the operation of the heritage hotels. • Beit Jokhdar has one of the largest wooden facades in Al-Balad and distinctive elements such as stained glass. • Beit Kedwan, facing Beit Nassif, stands out for its wooden rawasheen and mashrabiyyas.

During an exclusive tour at Beit Jokhdar, Milica Markovic, the general manager of Al-Balad Historic Hotels, told Arab News that the restoration process aimed to maintain the original charm of the buildings: “80 percent of the building has been restored to how it originally was. This building has the biggest roshan window in Jeddah. It has nine rooms and suites and it’s the biggest out of the three that we have.”

She added: “So, that’s why the architecture is actually very unique. It is very important for us to reflect for the guests, although these are hotels (they have) a very homey, elegant vibe.”

The opening of the first three heritage hotels in Jeddah Historic District marks a significant milestone in efforts to preserve and promote cultural heritage. (Instagram/jeddahalbalad.sa)

The attention to detail in preserving elements such as the roshan window, wooden ornaments and oil lamp hooks gives guests an insight into the heritage of the region. Local craftsmanship and artistry are also integral to the interior design and ambiance of the hotels, reflecting the cultural richness of Saudi Arabia.

“The ceilings are also original with wood ornament carving that is handmade. We even preserved the old hooks, where they used to put the oil lamps to lighten up the room. Most of the art and furniture you see … most of it has been done locally, so we really try to showcase fully not just the interior design and architecture of Saudi Arabia but also ... the work of the artists,” Markovic said.

Each of the three heritage hotels showcases a different architectural design that highlights the historical and aesthetic value of the buildings.

Beit Jokhdar, for instance, has one of the largest wooden facades in Al-Balad and features distinctive elements such as plaster decorations, arches, stained glass and ornate wooden interiors.

Beit Kedwan, facing Beit Nassif, stands out for its wooden rawasheen and mashrabiyyas, while Beit Al-Rayess is celebrated for its location and architectural features both internally and externally.

Markovic said: “The whole renovation process, I believe, took a little bit more than two years. But to set it up at the hotel and the hotel operation … it’s been only actually three months so we’ve been hardcore working to set everything up for the year.

“The most beautiful thing about these hotels is we don’t have to come up with a fancy marketing strategy or anything, we can just embrace them and share this beautiful history story,” Markovic said.

“Prices go usually from SR5,000 ($1,333) and more per night, but depending on the seasonality event in Jeddah, it can go a certain percentage lower or higher depending on the occupancy.”

Hospitality and dining in all hotels is inspired by an authentic Saudi flavor, “We have hired fantastic young chefs that are basically developing dishes that are inspired by Saudi cuisine, but with a bit of a more modern fine dining and elegant twist,” Markovic said.

The recent agreement between the Jeddah Historic District Program and Al-Balad Development Co. signals a new chapter in the operation of the heritage hotels.

With 34 heritage houses set to be managed under this partnership, Al-Balad Hospitality aims to offer authentic hospitality experiences that celebrate the culture of the region.

The commitment to preserving the history and providing enriching experiences positions Jeddah Historic District as a sought-after destination for visitors worldwide.

The opening of the first three heritage hotels in Jeddah Historic District marks a significant milestone in efforts to preserve and promote cultural heritage.

 


King Saud University pioneers in metaverse technology

The first Metaverse space at the level of Saudi universities for the Department of Media at King Saud University. (Supplied)
The first Metaverse space at the level of Saudi universities for the Department of Media at King Saud University. (Supplied)
Updated 01 March 2024
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King Saud University pioneers in metaverse technology

The first Metaverse space at the level of Saudi universities for the Department of Media at King Saud University. (Supplied)
  • Unveiled on the inaugural day of the “Fomex” exhibition at the third Saudi Media Forum which was conducted earlier this month, the virtual space meticulously mirrors the intricate details and units in the media department

JEDDAH: In a transformative leap towards technological integration, the Department of Mass Communication at the King Saud University has harnessed the power of metaverse technology and artificial intelligence tools to create a groundbreaking virtual space that encapsulates the essence of the university’s communication landscape.

The genesis of this project traces back to a collaborative effort by Majedah Alsewaiah and Khadeja Moraished, both from the Department of Mass Communication.

The first Metaverse space at the level of Saudi universities for the Department of Media at King Saud University. (Supplied)

Inspired by their training in AI journalism and the metaverse, the duo conceptualized a virtual environment that would serve as a dynamic showcase of the department’s achievements and milestones.

Unveiled on the inaugural day of the “Fomex” exhibition at the third Saudi Media Forum which was conducted earlier this month, the virtual space meticulously mirrors the intricate details and units in the media department.

HIGHLIGHT

The metaverse’s virtual space enhances immersive learning by enabling students to actively engage in their education, such as participating in historical simulations or real-time language practice with avatars.

From the head of the department’s office to the various cutting-edge studios and centers, such as the digital and visual media lab, electronic journalism lab, and the university’s newspaper headquarters, every facet is intricately woven into this digital tapestry.

Moraished, who is a Ph.D candidate in digital media at the Mass Communication Department at KSU, told Arab News: “After earning our diploma in AI journalism and the metaverse, Dr. Majedah Alsewaiah, an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication, and I developed a project for our final submission, showcasing the accomplishments of the media department. This led to the conception of utilizing metaverse technology to craft a virtual environment.

“We proposed the idea using metaverse technology for a virtual space to Dr. Faisal Al-Oqail, head of the media department, and the project was refined to mirror the department’s various units and key university landmarks, including the iconic book roundabout, emblematic of the KSU,” she said.

Moraished said that the metaverse’s virtual space enhances immersive learning by enabling students to actively engage in their education, such as participating in historical simulations or real-time language practice with avatars.

“Virtual reality allows for hands-on interaction with complex concepts. It facilitates global collaboration by removing geographical barriers, connecting students and educators worldwide for joint projects and exchanging teaching methods. This fosters cross-cultural learning and prepares students for a future where global cooperation is crucial.”

Alsewaiah credits the media department of the KSU with pioneering innovation in the metaverse sphere.

Embracing Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse as “the future of the internet,” she said that “the university’s virtual space supports its commitment to digital advancement and knowledge dissemination.”

Central to the project’s success is the seamless integration of AI tools in editing, designing, and production.

Looking ahead, Alsewaiah envisions further expansion and enhancement of the metaverse project, propelling educational excellence and fostering creativity in communication and media realms.

“The transition to the metaverse will spark competition and primarily enhance education by facilitating knowledge transfer and interaction between professors and students. Utilizing the metaverse and AI for creative outputs will also advance communication, and media, and elevate Saudi media’s effectiveness and distinction,” said Alsewaiah.