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A research revolution.

Summary: "Basic research at the molecular level" a reality in Kurdistan's Medical Research Center.

With the Medical Research Center and two new branches of research opening soon, is Kurdistan far from a scientific breakthrough in knowledge despite resistance of society? As soon as I walk into any dean's office, I feel a stiff sentiment that the interview will be formal and tedious. But this time within five seconds I realize that will not be the case. In the Directorate Central Veterinary Laboratory in Erbil, I meet a person with hope, dedication, and more importantly, vision.Dr. Farhad M. Barzinjy, Dean of the Medical Research Center, holds a Ph.D from Uppsala University in molecular biology. His envisions for students of Kurdistan a breakthrough with new research and results, especially in molecular biology and DNA research. Explaining the process of the formation of the research center, Dr. Farhad said: "Some students and I started from scratch; first, we had one lab for molecular biology with some equipment. We were able to undertake basic research at the molecular level." He noted that the center has sufficient equipment now; therefore, the research that has taken place has brought significant results. "Already five theses have been completed, and the sixth is on its way," said Dr. Farhad. The MRCor as Dr. Farhad called it, the KMRC (Kurdistan Medical Research Center) mainly studies the small molecules in living organisms and DNA. It is the only research center in the region at this point with such research facilities with productive results. Dr. Farhad denoted his strong belief that research and teaching should work parallel to one another and complete each other. "They are two lines-one is research and the other is education. Then there should be a bridge that links them together." "Up to October 10, we worked and had zero support; we did everything with our own pocket money. Now we have received a budget and are working busily to put every penny in the right place. Before, 80 percent of the work and research was completed here, and the other 20 percent had to be sent abroad to other countries for processing because of the lack of technology and facilities. Beginning next year, hopefully, everything will take place in the house [Kurdistan]."For the students, this is a significant development in that they are directly involved in all their research from the start, and it makes the process easier and less time-consuming. "There are two branches that I am more concerned about at this point," noted Dr. Farhad in explaining the roles of the two new research branches for the center. "One is environment genetics, and another is a diagnostic section."I believe a large part of society is heavily damaged by pollutants and different chemicals; that is why we have so many unknown diseases. Halabja with no doubt is part of this; therefore, an organized branch of research is required to further develop the research in these fields. The research center is available for all students and professors. "The door is open for anyone who is interested," said Dr. Farhad. "Young people in particular are very interested, although the right opportunity has not been provided previously?all natural sciences can be involved because of our interest in molecular biology. "I am here for young people?young people want everything new?" he laughed, asking: "Am I right?" He explained further that students should have the same opportunities of research and postgraduate studies in their fields of interest, like other parts of the world. The Ministry of Agriculture has already made use of some of the research completed in the center, like the avian virus, or chicken flu. When asked about the future of the center and research in Kurdistan, Dr. Farhad removed his glasses and sat back comfortably in his chair. "A place with a good building, top quality equipment, international publications at Europe and U.S. level," he began to list his priorities and his ultimate aim. Pointing upwards, he says: "because we must think of those societies." In the long term, he wishes for the research center to be one of the best in the Middle East. "Sometimes we must aim very high, so if we do not get there we get half way there" he noted.Leaving Iraq in 1982 and obtaining as much experience as possible from over two decades abroad, it is evident that Dr. Farhad had not thought that implementation of research projects in Kurdistan would be this difficult and the process not as simple as he first imagined. Speaking of the confrontations and difficulties, he stated: "Admin! Admin! Admin! In Kurdistan, we lack a solid administration system?for both of our interests this must be solved." The relevant ministries to a large degree work on their own and there is lack of collaboration, "of course with words it is always easy to make promises, but there is never action to follow the lovely words," noted the doctor. "Every step cannot be accomplished without financial support," Dr. Farhad explained. Doing something new like scientific research and discoveries and shedding old-fashioned ideas is not easy in this society. "Some people are afraid of new ideas," he pointed out. To have successful results, "you must be a strong character who is willing to confront people for your goal. In Kurdistan, you must also earn the support of certain people in power or who have influence; if you can get them to believe in your ideas, only then is it easy to fulfill something. Going to his bookshelf and removing two large books, he remarked that the research began in 2007. "These [the two books] are completed theses that we want to further develop, because the ideas and the results can be of great importance to our society," said the doctor. Going through scientific terminologies and pointing to complex diagrams of a student's final results, one of the thesis results discusses an agent that causes mutations in members of the Kurdish society, while comparing the molecular DNAs in Kurdistan and samples in Europe. "This is fortunate for the research and its success, but of course unfortunate for the reality that we are living in? although this information must be discovered to prevent certain problems in the future." In the laboratory are two students who are in the process of completing their postgraduate degrees in molecular research; they have both undertaken the first study in Iraq in their specialty. Two students, Palwest Jamal, 29, and Sardar Sabah, 27, are sitting on a table in the middle of the laboratory surrounded by machines. At a sudden "toot, toot" sound, Palwest ejected tubes and substances from a rather complex-looking machine. She is a master's student; in line with her specialty, she took samples from pregnant women and aborted children, extracting their DNA and processing much information to prove her thesis. "Right now, 75 percent of my research is finished," she said. "I have to wait for substances from abroad; it is very time consuming and stressful."Palwest and Sardar explained the difficulties they have confronted. "We obviously do not get the financial support from the government?it is with our own money we buy the substances for the experiments." Palwest added: "We must find individuals abroad and ask them to buy us whatever it is we need; then, we transport the money by ban, and wait weeks for its arrival." Sardar has already completed his master's thesis in the center; he has been there since its early establishment in 2006. While the center provides his needs regarding the facilities, he shares the same complaints as his colleague. Obtaining his master's in molecular diagnosis of parasites in aborted fetuses, he remarked that he had a greater plan for his research in mind. "What I had in mind required a lot of money without support I could not afford it." Palwest interrupted: "Our substances are very expensive because we work with DNA and small molecules." She gave the simple example of the OPNG substance that she required in her experiment. "One gram cost me 200 Euros." They both agree that if the government bought these substances through certain companies it would be much cheaper and many other students could make use of the them. "I am frozen now!" noted Sardar. "It is a pity that people here do not appreciate our field and do not realize its importance for the development of this society."Regrettably, the two students who have the talent to make scientific breakthroughs in Kurdistan both undertaking research for the first time in Iraq are on their own with no financial support from the government and no encouragement from their society to continue. Nevertheless, their expertise has benefited many people; both of the young bright minds have experience in giving lectures at universities in their specific fields. With the strength of Palwest and Sardar alongside the infinite support and encouragement of Dr. Farhad, the team is working hard to bring about research with results in the region.

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Publication:The Kurdish Globe (Erbil, Iraq)
Date:Nov 7, 2009
Words:1518
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