Georgetown Hosts AAAS BMENA Network Event

OCTOBER 31, 2012 - On Thursday, Oct. 18, two schools within Georgetown University hosted the Interim Executive Committee of the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) Network for Responsible Science.

The School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service’s Science and Technology in International Affairs (STIA) program organized the event, held in the boardroom of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in the Bunn Intercultural Center.

This network grew out of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) project, “Responsible International Bioscience: Ethics, Safety, and Security.”

Bioethics, Biosafety, and Biosecurity

The event focused on common issues in bioethics, biosafety and biosecurity addressed by researchers in the BMENA region and the United States, as well as opportunities for cooperative scientific engagement between U.S. academic institutions and those in the region.

“We’re very happy that we could host this event, which addresses vital scientific issues,” said STIA Director Timothy Beach, PhD, also the Cinco Hermanos Chair in Environment and International Affairs.

Rosemary Sokas, MD, MOH, chair of the Department of Human Science at NHS, also participated, welcoming the guests and speaking about science education at the undergraduate level.

'Significant Impact'

“The network that resulted from the AAAS grant has the potential to have significant impact on improving the conduct of responsible science in the BMENA region and elsewhere, including our own country,” added event organizer Irene Jillson, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Nursing at NHS and a committee member.

Jillson, who also teaches through the STIA program, added that, “the opportunities for linkages between Georgetown University and the network abound.”

Gwen Coat, senior program associate at the AAAS, said the network was initiated in spring 2012 after a series of meetings in Jordan, Kuwait, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates that had been held in conjunction with the AAAS program and had engaged more than 170 biomedical researchers and specialists in bioethics, biosafety, and biosecurity to discuss related issues.

The project, funded by the U.S. Department of State Biosecurity Engagement Program, has also led a study related to responsible science and funded five collaborative research studies involving scientists from the BMENA region and the U.S., including one with Georgetown University and the University of Tunis in Tunisia, according to event literature.

Three Questions

Jillson moderated the two-hour discussion, which looked at three questions – how do you encourage science education at the undergraduate level and above, how do you instill personal responsibility for responsible science from a young age, and how do you encourage international collaboration in the health sciences.

Robert Clarke, PhD, DSc, dean of research at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC), noted that science education must begin early.

“We have to capture people at a young age,” he said. “That requires an engagement with young people. When we get undergraduates in the lab, it is so much fun.”

“In order to mentor, it is necessary have in place research infrastructure and scientific studies,” said committee member Saied Jaradat, PhD, director of the HRH Princess Haya Biotechnology Centre at Jordan University of Science and Technology. “It has to be a part of the institutional culture. People have to see the way you do your own science.”

Sheila Cohen Zimmet (NHS’71, L’75), JD, senior associate vice president for regulatory affairs at GUMC, agreed.

“I can’t overemphasize the culture of integrity and the importance of mentorship,” she said.

Committee Members

Other committee member participants, according to Jillson, suggested that experienced scientists need to role model responsible behavior and that responsible science requires a commitment at all levels of the institution – from the individual scientist to organizational leadership.

Some also suggested a cooperative agreement among research institutions in the region, as well as with Georgetown and other U.S. research centers.

In addition to Jillson and Jaradat, other committee members who participated and offered ideas at Georgetown’s event included:

  • Alexander Abdelnoor, PhD, professor and chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the American University of Beirut
  • Ayesha Mohammed Abdullah, PhD, managing director of TECOM Investments’ Sciences Cluster
  • Abdelaziz Qaid Ali, PhD, University of Science and Technology in Yemen
  • Hayfaa Almudhaf, senior advisor in the Office of the Director General at Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research
  • Mona Mostafa Mohamad, PhD, associate professor and principal investigator of the Cancer Biology Research Laboratory at Cairo University in Egypt
  • Ara Tahmassian, PhD, associate vice president for research compliance at Boston University.

By Bill Cessato