Thursday, 30 June 2005

Challenges to Building and Sustaining Research Institutions in Developing Countries

Research Institutions in developing Countries are mostly funded by the government. Taking the case of Bangladesh there are around fifty research institutes devoted to different areas of work of national interest. Major research organizations include Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial research. There are 10 major agricultural research organizations under National Agricultural Research System(NARS) and in addition a good number of other agricultural research centres outside NARS

Professor Kamal as I saw him

As a Teacher

 Professor Kamaluddin Ahmad my beloved teacher and guide was the founder of the Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacy and its founding Chairman. When I got admitted into the department in the first batch of B.Sc(Hons) in 1963, it was dazzling with full of activities with local and foreign scientists. The department was being equipped with most modern biochemical equipment of that time like the GLC mind you HPLC was yet to come to market, amino acid analyzer, rotary evaporator, ultracentrifuge, fraction collectors, ultrasonic vibrator and others at a time when no other department in the whole of science faculty could afford to have any such facility. Professor Kamal was successful in this regard because he could convince the international funding agencies of the importance of his projects which was not an easy task in the early sixties. He did not approach  the government for any of his research funding. While the department was shining with activities of research and development Professor Kamal never compromized with the quality of teaching. He used to teach us protein biochemistry, fatty acid synthesis. No matter how busy he was with different activies he never forgot to be in the class at 8:00 am in the morning and in the class he was a different man altogether. He was deeply absorbed in teaching  and made sure every 15-20 minutes that his message was understood by the students in the class. In those days when biochemistry as term was not familiar to many people even in the Science Faculty we were in the midst of so many famous biochemists just through modern books and reports made available by Professor Kamal. Reading Scientific American at that time was compulsory for us. Every time he went abroad he used to  bring back  new materials for research and teaching.  We felt proud to be his students and our friends in the other departments were quite envious of us. Can you imagine that after completion of our M. Sc. Professor Kamal absorbed 5 of his students including myself in his project offering much higher salary than that offered to the then lecturers by the university.

 As a Researcher

 I remember while we were students Professor Kamal was engaged in  unlocking the biochemical mystery behind cholera, gout, leprosy, latharysim and many other disease which affected our people so much and dedicated his time and energy in finding cure for these mischiefs. He established strong collaboration with many foreign laboratory which was possible at that time if you are internationally recognized as a distinguished scientist for your work and which now a days anybody can do with little efort and merit. A veteran researcher Professor Kamal made many astounding discoveries. To cite  few examples he discovered crystalline antibiotic ramnacin first of its kind in the subcontinent. He developed a method for synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids. He discovered the biological action in electron transfer between cytochrome b and c. He demonstrated the action of alphatocopherol i.e vitamin E in the prevention of liver cancer by aflatoxin. He was the first scientist to produce experimental neurolathyrism in animals even though the disease has been known in humans since 400 B.C. He demonstrated protective action of vitamin C against neurolathyrism. Professor Kamal demonstrated that the toxicity of monosodium glutamate often thought of as Chinese Restaurant Syndrome can be countered by vitamin C. He showed that lack of vitamin A not only led to night blindness in children but also most of the anemia seen in Bangladesh. He showed that in the absence of vitamin A iron gets accumulated in the liver and is not available for synthesis of hemoglobin. He further demonstrated that betacarotene is better than retinol in combating Vitamin A deficiency in malnourished children. His noted work on herbal medicine include isolation of hypoxanthin L-arabinoside from the leaves of Boerhavia diffusa and demonstarion of its hypouricimic action in human subjects; isolation of antimicrobial agents from different plants. He established the Institute of Microbial antibiotics.    His work on fatty acid synthesis earned him fame in the western world as was his work on pounornocin, ramnacin and other antibiotics of plant origin. I cited only few examples of his work. But from these examples one can see the versatility of his talents in so many diversified fields.

 As a Leader of First and other Nutrition Surveys

 One thing he was convinced that root cause of all our ailments was not having enough food but not having the right kind of food to meet our nutritional requirements. Surveying of our nutritional status would reveal the facts behind our deficiencies. Through his personal initiative and organizing foreign funds Professor Kamal started the project on nutrition survey and   headed the team of scientists who carried out the first Nutrition Survey  of the then East Pakistan in 1962-64. Much later He led the other nutritional surveys in 1975-1976 and 1981-1982 in Bangladesh.

These studies were milestones in the understanding of the major nutritional problems of the country such as nutritional blindness, nutritional anemia

iodine deficiency disorders, protein calorie malnutrition and led to both dietary and socio-cultural measures to combat these problems. He pioneered the Vitamin A capsule and lipiodol injection programme in Bangladesh. Even the first grain of salt to be iodized was done in the laboratory of the department of Biochemistry which he founded. His pioneering contribution in the science of nutrition led to the establishment of the Institute of Food science and Nutrition in the University of Dhaka of which he was the founder Director.

 Chair after him and him after Chair

 Professor Kamal created his own domain. He created the department of Biochemistry and Pharmacy and became its Chairman. He created the Institute of Nutrition and became its Director. He initiated nutrition survey and was the team leader. He founded Institute of Herbal Medicine and during the last years of his life he took initiative for creating a National Academy of Herbal Medicine. He convinced the university authory for creation of a Centre for Biomedical Research and was the honorary Director of the Centre until his deathHe  called me several times for organizing it with him. After retirement at 57 from government job I thought it may be too much for me but Professor Kamal at the age over 80 years thought it was not difficult at all.  I headed an organization which was well established and many of his students were well placed like me and are still holding very high positions in different organizations. But I do not think any of us has created any new institution like Professor Kamal did. In fact he probably did not like to be in places which were well established and where you have to compromise with surroundings and can not flourish your ingenuinity. Many people misunderstood his attitude.

 As  Organizer of Scientific Societies

 Professor Kamal was the founder Secretary of the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences and one of the 12 Foundation Fellows of the Academy formed in 1973. He was the Founder President of the Bangladesh Association for the Advancement of Science in 1973. He was elected Fellow of the Third World Academy of Sciences in 1989 along with Professor M. Innas Ali and Professor M. Shmasher Ali. He was elected President of the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences in 1997-1998 and 1998-1999. He played pioneering role in unifying scientific community for a better place in the society. As President of the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences he represented Bangladesh in the Federation of Asian Scientific Academies and Societies(FASAS) at Chennai in 1998 and called for regional approach for research on Arsenic Toxicity affecting the region; on nutritional deficiencies which are common in the region and on the huge biological resources and their conservation. He relentlessly fought for a separate office accommodation for the Academy. The present Council of the Academy headed by Professor M. Shamsher Ali is trying hard to get a separate office for the Academy. Hopefully we will have a place from the government in near future.


 I have covered only few aspects of the vast activities of Professor Kamal. A brilliant scientist, guide and philosopher Professor Kamal dedicated his life for solving the problems of health and nutrition of the teeming millions of this country. He will be remembered by his disciples for his enormous contribution in the field of biochemistry and nutrition.