The Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase “ivory tower,” a synonym for the academic workplace, as “a state of privileged seclusion or separation from the facts and practicalities of the real world.” This gives us an idea of what people often think about academics and their work. Many see them as reclusive figures engaged in intellectual exercises that, for the most part, yield nothing of practical significance in the “real world.” Yet while some may fit that stereotype, AUB’s faculty certainly does not.
To celebrate this fact, AUB showcased its faculty’s research applications at the fourth annual Kamal A. Shair Central Research Science Laboratory Conference, under the leadership of Dr. Youssef Mouneimne, on May 7, which was supported by USAID’s Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program with real world applications. Speakers at the conference included AUB professors Yusuf Abou Jawdah (agriculture), Hiba El Hajj (internal medicine), Antoine Ghauch (chemistry) and Michel Kazan and Charbel Madi (physics), as well as representatives from the Lebanese and American governments.
The projects themselves span physics, biology, chemistry, and engineering, and impact the worlds of forensics, cancer, energy, and laser technology. For example, Kazan and Madi are developing a technology with the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of producing infrared lasers, which are used for medical applications like examining tumors. Currently, conventional lasers are made from crystal, which is expensive.
Kazan and Madi have found a way to emit laser light using amorphous materials that don’t have the same rigid atomic structure as crystals. They did this using cones. “When a wave of light reaches the apex of a cone, it diffracts and leaves the surface as coherent light (light that doesn’t spread out, but focuses like a laser),” says Kazan, adding, “The material doesn’t matter, only the [cone-like] structure.” Using this technique, Kazan and Madi could create functional infrared lasers from cheap materials like glass.
On the medical side, Dr. Hiba El Hajj and her team at AUB have figured out a way to significantly prolong the lives of patients with two types of leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and adult t-cell leukemia (ATL). “Leukemia is a poor prognosis disease,” says El Hajj. Once the disease appears, it is often too late. But El Hajj has found a way to significantly prolong the lives of patients of both diseases by treating them with a combination of arsenic and another agent: interferon in the case of ATL and retinoic acid in the case of AML.
“This treatment works to degrade the specific onco-protein in both types of leukemia that is responsible for transformation of normal cells into malignant ones,” explains El Hajj. The treatment protocol, already adopted by Iranian doctors and set to be adopted by others where leukemia is endemic, extends the lives of patients significantly. “There are patients still alive after five years, something not possible with any of the previous treatments,” El Hajj notes.
Meanwhile, in the world of green energy, Professor Abou Jawdah has identified several species of microalgae—unicellular organisms that can make oil from sunlight and CO2—native to Lebanon that show potential as super foods and fuel sources. The oil microalgae produces can be burned as a biodiesel fuel.
Though his research centers on turning microalgae into a biofuel, Abou Jawdah is quick to highlight its other potential uses, including as a protein supplement, medicinal agent, and cosmetic tool. Marketing microalgae outside the energy industry is essential to offsetting its high cultivation costs, since it does not yet break even as a biofuel. If cost and production efficiency barriers can be overcome, the algae could have an enormous potential impact on Lebanon’s energy sector.
Finally, in the murky world of forensics, we have Professor Antoine Ghauch and his patented Smart Counterfeiting Optical System (SACOS), a device that can consistently and accurately distinguish even the most sophisticated fraudulent currency from the real thing. The common practice right now involves bank tellers and customs agents shining UV light on sensitive documents or money to check for florescence. If it glows under the light, then they’ll assume it’s the real thing. But sophisticated fraudsters can now create documents using UV dyes similar enough to those used by currency and passport printers, meaning they can fool a customs agent holding a UV flashlight.
SACOS avoids florescence, looking instead at phosphorescence emissions, which are analyzed by a computer and are absolutely unique to specific printers. “Valuable papers, like passports and money, are usually made of cotton and cellulose, which is an ideal medium for visualizing phosphorescence at room temperature,” notes Ghauch. His machine can tell in five milliseconds whether notes are counterfeit. Ghauch has recently been approached by a European forensics lab interested in adopting the device.
“Women in governance” was the topic of conversation last week at a panel discussion hosted by the LAU Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW), moderated by journalist Diana Mukalled and strengthened by the voices of three Lebanese women working to get more women involved in the country’s governing bodies.
Read more: Women in governance: a duty, not a right
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the Knowledge to Policy (K2P) Center as a WHO Collaborating Center for Evidence-Informed Policy and Practice. This designation, which is effective for a period of four years, is unique, since the K2P Center is the only WHO Collaborating Center for Evidence-Informed Policy and Practice in Lebanon and the region, and is the second WHO Collaborating Center of this kind globally after McMaster Health Forum in Canada.
The designation stands as a recognition of K2P’s outstanding impact-oriented approach in terms of synthesizing and translating evidence on public health and engaging stakeholders to impact policy and action at the national and regional level.
It was given to K2P because it is committed to: 1. Conduct priority setting to identify policy-relevant priorities for evidence synthesis and knowledge translation products 2. Build capacity in the production of evidence synthesis and knowledge translation products 3. Produce evidence synthesis and knowledge translation products (e.g. systematic reviews, rapid reviews, guidelines, evidence briefs, evidence / SUPPORT summaries, guidance documents), prepare workbooks for the identified products, and conduct dialogues
To achieve the above objectives, K2P collaborates with several other centers from the Faculty of Medicine (FM) and the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS).
Based on the joint collaborations between FHS and FM, the WHO Collaborating Center for Evidence-informed Policy and Practice will be co-directed by Dr. Fadi El-Jardali (FHS) and Dr. Elie Akl (FM).
Established by and hosted at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut, the K2P Center is mainly funded by the International Development Research Center (IDRC). K2P is affiliated with the McMaster Health Forum in Canada and is supported by the Forum’s work in terms of some approaches and tools designed to influence policy agendas and actions. K2P’s director is Dr. Fadi El-Jardali and its associate director is Dr. Rima Nakkash.
The K2P Center produces a variety of products from policy briefs, to briefing notes, evidence summaries, and dialogue summaries that cater to the needs of policymakers and stakeholders.
K2P provides a rapid response service and media bites; the latter are meant to assist journalists and media representatives in evidence-based health reporting.
K2P also conducts targeted capacity building workshops for policymakers and stakeholders, researchers, civil society groups, NGOs, media and international agencies to help empower them make better-informed decisions that will ultimately improve the overall health status of citizens.