“We have a weak point here in Egypt,” explains Sanaa Botros of the Theodor Bilharz Research Institute (TBRI) in Giza, coordinator of the THEBERA project. “We have different institutes involved in liver research and liver disease management, but apart from the National Committee for the Control of Viral Hepatitis, we do not have an oversight body that can coordinate all of the activities.”
This weakness was identified as an important gap when the project mapped the state of the art of liver disease research in Egypt.
Boost for research capacities
While liver disease is a serious health issue worldwide, its impact is making itself felt to an even greater extent in Egypt, where Hepatitis B and C are prevalent. Strengthening the local research capacities was at the heart of the project.
The project’s map of the local research landscape aimed to establish what was being done. Which research subjects were covered and to what extent? What were the additional research needs?
Such a systematic approach, which included an inventory of the status of liver disease research in Egypt as well as an analysis of TBRI’s potential, was new to the researchers. On this basis, they developed a five-year strategic action plan for TBRI and defined research priorities that would respond to socio-economic needs and help to better tackle liver disease, from the various forms of Hepatitis, to Schistosomiasis and Fascioliasis (both parasitic illnesses that can cause serious liver damage), chronic liver disease, liver cancer and more.
In addition, THEBERA organised study visits to top European research centres and opportunities to participate in and contribute to relevant liver research events to increase capacities as well as promote topics of mutual interest. Project workshops were also organised to address horizontal issues that limit cooperative research, and to foster networking between Europe and Mediterranean partner countries.
Facilitating research with partners beyond the EU
International cooperation and partnering with EU research centres allowed for the Mediterranean partners to learn about ethical research guidelines, intellectual property rights management and how to write competitive research proposals to facilitate participation in European liver research initiatives and Euro-Mediterranean research.
“All of us, my junior as well as my senior colleagues, have gained a lot from THEBERA. This sort of project is particularly important because, if you don’t know how to effectively communicate your research interest as well as your capabilities to the European research community, you will miss out,” says Botros. “You also have to realise that not only ‘you’ should benefit from the research, but it should be a win-win situation based on mutual understanding. It is essential to consider that in any future proposal.”
The project also brought into focus the importance of thinking about commercial aspects when developing a research project. “If you are doing research without making the connection to the industry to exploit your research results and offer a product to the community, you will not be able to sustain your activities,” Botros points out.
Yet, commercialisation does not come easy. It requires additional knowhow. To take the achievements of THEBERA further, Botros emphasises that she would welcome a programme that helps build on results and complements projects such as THEBERA that are designed to promote scientific and technological cooperation between the EU and neighbouring countries.