x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

New chief to expand Khalifa University into medical school

Known as an engineering school, Khalifa University is about to expand with the opening of a medical school under the leadership of its new provost.

Khalifa University's new provost, Professor Jay Noren, is aiming to  expand the university into a medical school.
Khalifa University's new provost, Professor Jay Noren, is aiming to expand the university into a medical school.

ABU DHABI // A new provost at Khalifa University will lead the fledgling engineering institution as it expands to include a medical school.

Dr Jay Noren, a physician, has just arrived from Wayne State University in Michigan, one of the largest medical schools in the US.

Moving to Khalifa University, which has about 1,200 students after setting up five years ago, was "no small project".

"I don't think there's any example like this, where you have an engineering school that's launching a medical school," Dr Noren said.

"The reason that it's so timely now and over coming decades is that this interface between medicine and what's developing in engineering is more relevant than ever before. Things like robotic surgery are now a reality that would have been science fiction 30 years ago."

Rapid developments will mean radical overhauls in medicine.

"Alzheimer's, for example, you can only see from a brain biopsy in a post-mortem, but with emerging technologies this will all change soon."

Blending engineering, science and disciplines such as social science with medicine is an increasing trend, says Prof Samy Mahmoud, chancellor of the University of Sharjah.

"When you set up a new medical school, this is the way you want to go," Prof Mahmoud said, referring to the work the university's medical school does between other disciplines.

They include social sciences, where sociologists and psychologists connect behaviour such as smoking and inactivity with health consequences.

"Medicine will much more rely on engineers now," Prof Mahmoud said. "For example, through ultrasound you can diagnose a tumour without having to do any cutting.

"These technologies give better diagnosis, accuracy and less chances of infection. This is all only available because of the technology we didn't have 20 years ago."

Many of the University of Sharjah's biotechnology undergraduates now go on to the medical school for post-graduate research, showing the increasing crossover Khalifa University is now aiming for.

Prof Tod Laursen, president of the university, said the medical school would compete with UAE University in Al Ain, but the two institutions had been working together to ensure they complemented each other and did not double up on offerings.

"There's a bigger problem we all need to address," said Prof Laursen. "We need to collaborate."

He said there were many partners in the project, including the military, which would use the school for training in areas such as trauma medicine.

"There are a lot of high-quality doctors here who would be very interested in having a relationship with this medical school, such as those at the Cleveland Clinic," Prof Laursen said.

Dr Noren said ensuring the medical school remained part of the university was vital.

"It will be unique to explore this from the beginning. There's no example like this in the UK," he said.

Dr Noren said the biggest challenge was to get the programme up and running on schedule. It is due to open in 2014.

But it will be take some time before the school, which has a mainly Emirati student body, can help with the shortage of physicians in the country.

"It will be four years for them to do their undergraduate studies, three years of residency, so it will be at least 10 years before the first physicians are produced," Dr Noren said.

The university is already preparing its engineering students to move to the medical school if they wish.

There they can take subjects including biology and chemistry.

"We are also tailoring a programme of one to two semesters for those people to slot between their bachelor's and medical school," Prof Laursen said.

Dr Noren hopes the medical school will be a major research institution and he is already meetings local and regional health authorities and hospitals.

"In Wayne State, around 70 per cent of our research was in the medical school," he said.

"We've got to first build these research relationships."

mswan@thenational.ae