- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Arabia opens new stem cell laboratory
- Date: 15th April 2014
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) GENERAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF KING KHALED EYE HOSPITAL, ABDUL ELAH AL-TWERKI, SAYING: "Today we celebrate the first surgery for the first patient, a 59-year-old Saudi man who is blind in one eye and the second eye is infected, with weakness in the surface of stem cells, thus leading to low vision. A sample was taken from the blind eye and then cultivated during the two weeks and today it was planted, thank God." SURGICAL TEAM CLAPPING
- Embargoed: 30th April 2014 13:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Science
- Reuters ID: LVA3DJS1QIVXST4UQA936H7XFSVF
- Story Text: Saudi Arabia's King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital recently opened a stem cell laboratory, marking a new milestone for medical research in the region.
The 250-bed hospital in Riyadh is known for its research programmes and patient care.
Over the weekend, the facility hosted a stem cell culture conference, during which the laboratory was inaugurated.
A specialist in genetic diseases, Leen Abu-Safyeh explained what the new facility hopes to achieve.
"For the first time at King Khaled Eye Hospital, we have opened the genetic sequences unit which reads the DNA from patient samples. We are looking for the genetic causes that could have a role in genetic diseases in the eyes," she said.
The hospital's executive director Abdul Elah al-Twerki said Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries to have a laboratory carrying out stem cell research for the cornea.
"It is rare to open a centre, a lab for stem cells of the cornea in the Middle East. The number of such laboratories is small on a global level, very few countries have such a laboratory. Its goal is to take a few cells from the patient, grow them for two weeks and then return it to the patient again," he said.
Doctors said the laboratory is designed to prepare stem cells of the cornea, which will enable doctors to treat many conditions that cause blindness, some of which have had no forms of treatment in the past. Older patients can suffer damage to the eye as a result of diseases such as trachoma or exposure to sunlight.
Physicians aim to take a few stem cells from the patient and grow them in the laboratory to make them suitable.
"We take small cells from the side of the cornea and we put them in special chemicals that makes them younger, so they become like baby cells. Once we put them back in the eye, they grow like baby cells, so we take an elderly person like me with white hair and we make their eyes baby eyes, we make them very young and very clear," said cornea specialist William May.
Stem cells are the body's master cells, the source of all other cells. Scientists say that, by helping to regenerate tissue, they could offer ways of tackling diseases for which there are currently only limited treatments - including heart disease, Parkinson's and stroke.
There are two main types of stem cells: embryonic ones, harvested from embryos, and adult or iPS cells, which are taken from skin or blood and reprogrammed back into stem cells.
On Sunday (April 13), doctors and specialists gathered at the conference to watch a surgical team conduct transplants of stem cells for a 59-year-old Saudi man.
"Today we celebrate the first surgery for the first patient, a 59-year-old Saudi man who is blind in one eye and the second eye is infected, with weakness in the surface of stem cells, thus leading to low vision. A sample was taken from the blind eye and then cultivated during the two weeks and today it was planted, thank God," Twerki said to applause.
Doctors said the stem cell transplant was the first of its kind in the Middle East.
The Saudi government recently ramped up healthcare budget, with spending up from eight billion U.S. dollars in 2008 to 27 billion dollars last year. It has also launched a drive to reform the sector, building hundreds of hospitals, which could make the country the fastest-growing major healthcare market over the next few years.
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