| CYPRUS - Eastern outpost of the European Research Area
For Cyprus, a republic with a troubled past, joining the knowledge society is a major challenge. The difficulties inherent in its remote island location were not made any easier by partition, introduced in 1974, which for many years failed to prioritise science and research. Despite this, the island has a centre of excellence of European renown: the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI). Cypriot research is a recent phenomenon – the University of Lefkosia (Nicosia) was only founded in 1992 – but is driven by youthful enthusiasm and ambition with the focus firmly on innovation.
"Our past has taught us that education is the one thing that nobody can take away from you and the Cypriots are a very educated population,” stresses Sophocles Hadjisophocleous, Head of the National Contact Point for information technologies under the Sixth Framework Programme. “Many of them have trained in Europe – east and west – and the United States. This scientific diaspora provides us with a pool from which we can draw excellent researchers with access to networks in many countries.” Today, going abroad to study is no longer a necessity and the University of Lefkosia (Nicosia), founded in 1992, has more than 4 000 students.
|The University of Lefkosia, in Nicosia. "We are too small and have too few industrial outlets to achieve a high level across the board. Our strategy is therefore to develop poles of excellence.”|
Neurology and genetics
The 1990s brought a new focus on science and research, and in 1990, the Institute of Neurology and Genetics (ING) was founded. Five years later, thanks to grants from the United States and aid from the UN, it moved into brand new premises on the hills overlooking Nicosia. Today, this private non-profit-making organisation employs a staff of 130 and carries out its research for the benefit of both the island’s communities. It had no problem recruiting several dozen high-level Cypriot researchers from a number of renowned laboratories – including Imperial College London and the Institut Pasteur in Paris. Guided by a spirit of great scientific freedom, it offers clinical services (such as biological diagnoses) alongside its research activities.
The ING has specialist teams working on most of the major neurological diseases (multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, etc.) and is also engaged in the study of genetic diseases. “Cyprus is an island that has seen successive waves of colonisation, resulting in a very original and interesting genetic profile,” explains Kyriacos Kyriacou, Director of the Department of Electronic Microscopy and Molecular Pathology. The ING’s ambitions extend beyond the local context and it could in time become a genuine regional centre, as demonstrated by successful co-operation with research bodies in Israel and Jordan, resulting in the identification of the genes responsible for rare regional syndromes, for example.
These regional ambitions are shared by many of the island’s scientists. Charalbos Doumanidis – recently attached to the famous Tufts University in Boston (USA) and now Director of Nicosia university’s new school of engineering – can confirm this. “We are too small and have too few industrial outlets to achieve a high level across the board. Our strategy is therefore to develop poles of excellence – for example, in my case in the micro-nanotechnologies and biomedical engineering. Here in Cyprus we can offer a high-level environment for work and study and welcome students and researchers from nearby countries.” In this way the island could be an outpost of European science in the Middle East and serve as a cultural and scientific crossroads in a richly diverse region.