This past Friday, the Institute for Lasers, Photonics, and Biophotonics (ILPB) at the University at Buffalo signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Universities Commission (NUC) of Abuja, Nigeria. The MOU called for the development of an international joint research center for nanomedicine at Nigerian universities.
The ILPB, established in 1999, integrates the research resources from engineering, chemistry, physics, biology and medicine. It is internationally recognized for its research in nanophotonics, biophotonics, and nanomedicine. It boasts over $30 million in facilities and grants and receives constant funding from the National Science Foundation of the United States (NSF), National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute, and U.S. Air Force.
The NUC appointed UB Professor Paras N. Prasad, a SUNY Distinguished Professor of chemistry, physics, electrical engineering, and medicine and the executive director of the ILPB, as the head of the joint research center. Prasad was named one of the top 50 scientists by Scientific American in 2005 and has published more than 600 scientific papers. He is considered the father of nanophotonics and biophotonics because of his outstanding contributions in promoting the technology and its biomedical applications.
The organizations hope to establish long-term collaboration efforts to address the industrial, scientific, social and cultural interests and needs of the participating countries. Prasad has collaborated with a number of various countries, such as Brazil, China, Sweden, Korea and Poland in the past. Last year, a joint research center similar to the one planned for Nigeria was created in Chang Chun, located in northern China.
"Our research is in the area that involves nanotechnology with photonics," Prasad said. "The two major application areas are alternate energy and health care. We are applying this merge of photonics, of light wave energy, for application in the area of medicine called nanomedicine. The other, alternative energy, focuses primarily on solar energy harvesting."
In Nigeria, the primary focus will be on nanomedicine, which could be applied to disease diagnosis, treatment, and delivery, according to Folarin Erogbogbo, the group leader and research assistant professor in cancer nanotechnology under Prasad.
"Over here [at UB], we've done some work that could be beneficial for the early detection of cancer. However, nanomedicine doesn't end there," Erogbogbo said. "It could be used in other areas like malaria and AIDS research and so on; obesity issues, as well."
Erogbogbo was one of the primary promoters of this Nigerian collaboration. He saw Prasad's propensity to work with international researchers and noticed that UB did not have a strong academic presence in Africa. Nigeria put part of its oil revenue into the Educational Trust Fund with the objective to further enhance its scientific and technological infrastructure.
"[The joint research institution] would [incite] a lot of change in Nigeria… we're bringing cutting edge technology to Nigeria," Erogbogbo said. "Sometimes they lack the resources to be able to further themselves. There will be an opportunity to learn things that they did not have an opportunity to learn as part of their program or curriculum there. It boosts the quality of their home institutions… when it comes to nanotechnology."
The first phase in this initiative is to implement the program at NUC-selected universities. The cooperation model will be further refined and a research staff appointed. The NUC will sponsor the grand opening in Nigeria and an introduction to worldwide press and scientific audiences in South Africa in May. Various published article requirements must additionally be met.
The second phase will bring accepted Nigerian researchers to train at ILPB. Simultaneously, Nigerian facilities will be prepared and equipment will be distributed to Nigerian universities. By this time, there should be "global impact of research with widespread implementation of quantum dots and other nanoparticles in the fields of medical diagnosis and treatment," according to the MOU.
"[We want to bring] these students and researchers over here for further training… to learn new methodology and engage in research while we set up the facilities over there for them to go back and continue their training," Prasad said. "It will be an ongoing process… we'll publish jointly, seek funds through other foundations such as the MacAurther Foundation, which is active over there."
The third stage, meant to take place five to 10 years from now, will be defined by major research focuses, sufficient funding, and effective personnel training. It should become a first-class research center not only in Nigeria, but in the world.
Currently, the plan is receiving funding from NUC, and the joint research center will apply for additional funds from their respective governments. Other private funding will also be pursued.
"I think this is a great opportunity for UB to add to our international reputation as a very proactive institute in these international exchanges and partnerships," Prasad said. "[UB has] a strong emphasis on diversity in our training programs...we see Nigeria as a very ripe country to take this bold step. They have a vision, they really want to move forward, they want to be in a position of leadership in Africa."