Science for Development, Peace and Prosperity
Professor Adeyinka Falusi describes concrete, real-world examples of how scientific research projects, institutional capacity building and increased awareness of ethics can lead directly to improved quality of life for individuals and societies. Dr. Falusi is a Professor of Hematology at the Genetic and Bioethics Research Unit, Institute for Advanced Medical Research and Training, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
Science is Life. The basic natural sciences, health sciences, physical sciences and applied sciences are identified with activities that support life and proffer solutions to the myriad problems confronted by mankind. The scientific work honored by the L’OREAL-UNESCO For Women in Science program over the past ten years has enriched our knowledge of the earth and the forms of life that populate it.
If I may use my own career as an illustration, I make bold to say that over the past thirty years my research on the genetic aspects of hematology as well as my interest in the ethics of research have somehow contributed, albeit minimally, to a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Retracing the important steps of my work, the first impact was the finding of uracil as the mismatch of nucleic acid for thymidine in megaloblastoid cells and the finding that uracil increased with the level of megaloblastosis. This was later corroborated in other megaloblastoid cells worldwide (Ref.1).
The following research was on sickle cell disease, alpha thalassaemia and the haplotype analysis of the sickle gene. These studies represented a first in the genetics of sickle cell disease and its haplotype profile in the Nigerian population (Ref 2, 3, 4)
The first unequivocal data on the existence and prevalence of alpha thalassaemia as well as some of its interactions with sickle cell disease were recorded. These findings contributed tremendously to the understanding of the genetics and pathophysiology of sickle cell disease entity in Nigerians.
Not only this, the existing literature that alpha thalassaemia was not found among Nigerians became nullified and was finally rewritten some one and a half decades after (Ref.5 – Falusi 1987). This research held promise for applying the molecular technique for prenatal diagnosis of sickle cell disease in Nigeria.
I assisted in co-founding the Sickle Cell Association of Nigeria. The association provides appropriate, accessible, user-friendly information booklets designed to help patients, trait carriers and the general public to make informed decisions about reproduction and its consequences.
Next came studies on the genetics of malaria in which our team revealed, also for the first time, that the high frequency and prognosis of malaria could be related to an extra 20% load of sub-patent microscopically invisible parasitaemia in Nigerians (Ref. 6). This finding held promise for understanding anti-malaria drug resistance and therefore improved drug therapy for a dreaded disease that cripples millions of Nigerians. Malaria infection causes high rates of morbidity and mortality in children, especially those under 10 years of age. Malarial infection in adults not only causes suffering but has economic consequences due to the loss of manpower and man-hours.
Current ongoing projects in my research unit include molecular analysis of breast cancers in Nigerians. This project is aimed at evaluating disease progression and response to targeted drug therapies in breast cancers. Another aspect of the project includes the investigation of macrophages in the peripheral blood and breast tissue of Nigerian women with breast cancer. This is to correlate levels of macrophages in the blood and tissue to develop a blood-based marker that can assess response to macrophage-targeted therapy. In the near future such studies could lead to improved healthcare and improved patient management.
Each of these projects could be said to contribute to fulfilling certain Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), such as reducing child and maternal mortality by means of accessible education and information on the sickle cell syndromes and breast cancers as well as reversing the spread of malaria. It is noteworthy that these domestically fathered data are not simply extrapolated from data gathered among black Americans with a high percentage of genetic admixtures.
A Word on Ethics
Ethics is the study of morality, a careful and systematic reflection on and analysis of moral decisions and behavior, whether past, present or future, and includes rights, responsibilities and virtues as well as notions of good and bad, right and wrong, and just and unjust. Ethics primarily implies knowing high standards of behavior but morality implies action. (Ref. 7)
For the past six years I have been actively involved in formulating and promoting research ethics, including helping establish the Institutional Ethics Review Committee at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria (Ref. 8). The committee has become the foremost Ethics Review Board in the country. A number of teacher training workshops on the ethics of research on human subjects have been conducted under my leadership. The goal of the workshops is to increase awareness of ethics in the academic community in order to strengthen ethical review boards in Africa (NEBRA Study 2005, EDCTP Project 2007, Ref. 9, 10).
I also hope my contributions to the Agora forum help enlighten the global community on how scientists perceive the world and how laureates and fellows can serve as role models to girls and young women. (Ref. 11, 12)
In conclusion, a quote from Albert Schweitzer (1923):
“The essence of goodness is to maintain and cherish life, and the essence of evil is to destroy and damage life. All living things have the will to live, and all living beings with the will to live are sacred, interrelated and of equal value. It is, therefore, an ethical imperative for us to respect and help all life forms.” (Schweitzer, A., 1923) (Ref. 13)
1. Luzzatto L., FALUSI A.G. and Joju E.A. (1981). Uracil in DNA in Megaloblastic Anaemia. New Engl. J. Med. 305: 1156-1157.
2. Wainscoat J.S., Kulozik A.E., Ramsay M., FALUSI A.G. and Weatherall D.J (1986): A Taq 1 a-globin DNA polymorphism: an African specific marker. Human Genetics 74:90-92 (involves 10 Euro-Asian-African Countries).
3. Kulozik A.E., Wainscoat J.S., Serjeant G.R., Al-Awamy B., Esan G.F.J., FALUSI A.G., Haque S.K., Hilali A.M. Kate S., Ranasinghe W.A.E.P., and Weatherall D.J. (1986). Geographical survey of �s-globin gene Haplotypes: Evidence for an independent Asian Origin of the Sickle cell mutation. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 39: 239-244 (A survey of 6 Countries).
4. FALUSI A.G., Esan G.J.F., Ayyub H. and Higgs D.R. (1987). Alpha Thalassaemia in Nigerians: Its interaction with sickle cell disease. Euro. J. Haematol. 38: 370-375.
5. FALUSI A.G., Esan G.J.F. (1989). Hpa 1 Polymorphism and the sickle gene in Nigerians. Trop. Geogr. Med. 41: 133-137.
6. May J, FALUSI A. G, Mockenhaupt F.P., Ademowo O.G., Olumese P.E. Bienzle U, Meyer C. G. (2000) Impact of subpatent multi-species & multi-clonal plasmodial infections on anaemia in children from Nigeria. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg.94 (4) 399-403.
7. World Medical Association – Medical Ethics Manual (2005) by J.R. Williams, Director of Ethics WMA)
8. FALUSI A.G., Olopade C.O., Olopade O.I. (2007). Establishment of A Standing Ethics/Institutional Review Board in a Nigerian University: A Blueprint for Developing Countries. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics (JERHRE) USA. Vol 1, Pp 21- 30
9. FALUSI, A.G. (2006). Country Coordinator on “Strengthening Research Ethics in Western and Central Africa. Basic Questions and Answers”. Produced by Networking for Ethics in Biomedical Research in Africa (NEBRA) 15-Country Survey Report in collaboration with WHO/ETH. July 2006. http://trree.org/site/nebra.phtml
10. FALUSI, A.G. (2007). Strengthening the Capacity of Ethics Research Committees in Africa. An EDCTP Project (P.I & Project Coordinator for Nigeria).
11. FALUSI A.G. Science Education for Girls and Women: The Situation In Nigeria. www.agora.forwomeninscience.com/education_of_girls_and_women/
12. FALUSI A.G. Bioethics and Women in Africa. www.agora.forwomeninscience.com/bioethics/
13. Schweitzer, A., 1923. Civilization and Ethics. J. Naish (trans.) London, A&C Black.