x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Research is vital in push towards 2030

Conducting advanced research projects is essential for the UAE to foster innovation and develop a knowledge-based economy.

A s The National reported yesterday, 100 pregnant women in the UAE could soon trial a new foetal heart-monitoring device, as part of a collaborative project involving Khalifa University. This potentially ground-breaking work is being carried out with the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Paediatric Surgical Innovation at the Children’s National Medical Centre in Washington DC.

The device uses a driver, or computer program, loaded onto a mobile phone and acoustic sensors linked to the phone’s sound card, which are then placed on the expectant mother’s abdomen.

A signal processing technique developed by the university will be able to distinguish the foetal heart sound from other sounds, allowing doctors to know if there are any abnormalities.

Using such technology could prevent many stillbirths and infant deaths and offers hope for many around the world. The stillbirth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is 28 deaths for every 1,000 births, significantly higher than in more-developed parts of the world.

Such research projects are central to the successful delivery of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, the nation’s long-term plan to develop a dynamic and diversified economy. One of the corner stones of that plan requires the development of world-class education and health services. The foetal heart monitoring breakthrough is an almost perfect rendering of that ambition.

But such successes should not gloss over the fact that much work still needs to be done, not only for this device to make it to the market, but for other projects of its ilk to take flight in this country.

Experts say there is a shortage of research and development in the UAE. There is also the issue of funding, with research spending currently equivalent to only 0.3 per cent of the country’s GDP, according to the National Research Foundation. Nevertheless, the development of the heart monitor shows what can be done right now. And by targeting niche areas of research, each success allows the country to stand out in the crowd and at the same time boost its portfolio of innovation.

This can only help attract more funding and more interest in science among students. So all in all, a very good result already.