The UAE has one of the world's highest rates of diabetes, but the causes of this high rate of disease are not clear. Now NYU medical scholars are seeking the answer to that and other public health questions through a long-term study of Emiratis' health.
The NYU Abu Dhabi Public Health Research Center (PHRC) plans to follow a sample of 20,000 UAE nationals in the country's first-ever "cohort" study. Researchers will periodically check in with the individuals over many years. Statistical assessment of longevity and health status, combined with information about behaviors and lifestyle practices, can help to pinpoint the causes of early death and serious illness.
Scott Sherman, an associate professor in NYU's departments of Population Health, Medicine, and Psychiatry, is one of four principal investigators on the project, now in the design stage.
"There are lots of hypotheses" about why 44 percent of Emirati adults have diabetes or the condition known as pre-diabetes, Sherman said, "but nobody has a good answer why. A cohort study will allow us to get at the factors."
Cohort studies are a well-established tool for identifying what contributes to a population's health situation. Sherman explained that the best-known project of this type, the Framingham (Mass.) Heart Study, "has made countless discoveries about cardiovascular risk factors associated with different outcomes." That study began in 1948, he notes, and continues still; it will probably conclude only when all its subjects are dead.
So when Sherman and his colleagues tried to design a project for NYUAD that could contribute to better health outcomes for Emiratis, a cohort study came to mind.
Sherman is working with Ann Marie Schmidt, Richard Hayes, and Ravichandran Ramasamy, all professors at the NYU School of Medicine. The project now also has an Abu Dhabi-based director, Raghib Ali, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Oxford.
The Abu Dhabi cohort study, to be conducted by the PHRC in conjunction with the PHRC's Diabetes Research Center, will focus on that disease and cardiovascular problems, also common among Emiratis.
Designing a cohort study is not simple, and roughly the first half of the initial grant period of five years is being devoted to organizing the work.