Scientific Bangladesh, in its pursuit to give Bangladeshi researchers at home and in abroad scope to talk about their present research, future plan, giving directions to future researchers and government, has talked(by email) with Dr. Mohammad Ariful Islam.
Scientific Bangladesh: What has made you interested in biomedical science?
Dr. Arif: Thank you for asking the question.
Biology always fascinated me when I was in secondary and higher secondary school. Also, my father always wanted me to become a medical doctor. His sudden death due to heart attack just before my H.S.C. exam made me think more about it to become a doctor so that I could take care of my family member or other people as well at any situation. I got good results after the exam but couldn’t get chance in any of the medical college in Bangladesh. I was so frustrated and hopeless. At that moment, one of my cousin (who is now a Senior Pharmacist and Production Officer, Somatech Pharmaceutical, Dhaka) suggested me to study ‘Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering’ at the University of Development Alternative (UODA). The university was just established at that time and the subject was quite new. Although it was known that biotechnology has promising potential, but it doesn’t have much scope in Bangladesh yet so far. Anyway, I enrolled there so that I could be in touch with applied biological study. During my bachelor at UODA, I came to know more about biotechnology and biomedical research and its prospects over the globe. Also, I had opportunity to do research works with several renowned scientists in Bangladesh includes Prof. M. Rahmatullah (my bachelor supervisor, former Dean and now Pro-VC at UODA), Prof. Aftab Ahmed (Chairman, Dept. of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Dhaka) and Prof. Sitesh C. Bachar (Dept. of Pharmaceutical Technology, University of Dhaka). That was the starting of my research life and I was much interested to do high-tech research and study deep on Biotechnology. At least, there was a possibility opened for me at that time to become a biomedical researcher, although I couldn’t be a medical doctor. After getting chance to do higher study at one of the top university (Seoul National University at South Korea) in the world, my interest toward biomedical science and research become more feasible and I am trying now at my best to achieve the goal and to improve human healthcare system.
Scientific Bangladesh: You are part of three patent applications. Can you inform our readers’ detail of those patented products?
Dr. Arif: I am in a part of a Korean patent that was approved in 2011 which describes the preparation of polymeric microcapsules with improved mucoadhesive characteristics for controlled and extended delivery of vaccine and therapeutic drugs to enhance efficacy at the target site of the body. This also represents a research work to develop patient compliant oral delivery systems for biologics. Another two patents (Korean and International) have been applied for the biomaterial-based gene therapy work. Gene therapy can introduce a new genetic material by delivery of a functional gene (therapeutic DNA) and also can remove the malfunction by silencing the defected gene [using small interfering RNA (siRNA)] to cure patient. In polymeric gene therapy research, delivery of gene (DNA or siRNA) with high efficacy and less toxicity is considered the most essential but difficult task to achieve effective clinical therapy. I have developed a new class of polymeric gene delivery carrier which showed several interesting mechanisms, leading to efficient transfer of DNA for enhanced gene expression [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21959011] and siRNA for effective gene silencing [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22975426]. Both of these works have been published recently in ‘Biomaterials’, one of the leading Journals in Biomedical Material Science field.
Scientific Bangladesh: Why and how did you end up doing your PhD in South Korea?
Dr. Arif: South Korea is now one of the leading economically developed countries in the world. I think people (especially in Bangladesh) know very less about this country and its development in the sector of science and technology on how much this country has been progressed. Seoul National University is the leading university that has been showing its excellence in biomedical research for many years. Moreover, in my thinking it was relatively easier to get scholarship in Asian countries like South Korea compared to other countries such as USA. Considering all these, I was very much interested to join here for my higher studies and I got a position in Seoul National University to join Cho Laboratory (Prof. Chong–Su Cho, a leading biomaterials scientist in drug delivery field) and later YUN Laboratory (Prof. Cheol-Heui Yun, a renowned immunologist) which was a turning point to learn biomaterial science, nanotechnology, immunology, and molecular biology to apply combined in my PhD research working for cancer treatment using nanobiomaterials.
Scientific Bangladesh: How do you see research culture in South Korea?
Dr. Arif: In scientific research and technology, the development of South Korea is unbelievable! It is important to mention that almost all of the universities in this country have facilities for conducting very good research work. Also Korean Government is supporting a lot as well as many companies are doing world class researches or providing support to conduct research work. All we know about Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and many other companies in South Korea are world famous. Many of these companies are also focusing research on multidisciplinary field including Biomedical and Life Sciences. Therefore, university research can be easily implemented to the company for practical application. Basically Korean people are very hard working. I do not say that they are too much talented or brilliant than us. But the difference they make with their hard working mentality. Here the laboratories are opened for 24 h where anybody can do work at anytime. People work hard throughout the five working days every week, but at the weekend they really enjoy their life to get rid of all stresses and to start with new rhythm from the next week. Also in the laboratory, we celebrate each of our birthdays, welcome or graduation parties and home coming days together once in a year with all the alumni members. In every summer or winter vacation, all laboratory members go for pleasure trip which improves the interrelation among the laboratory members and research environments.
Scientific Bangladesh: What are your suggestions if anyone wants to go South Korea for PhD?
Dr. Arif: It’s a good chance to apply for PhD in South Korea. I would recommend preparing English Proficiency Test Score, especially TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS which are the requirements to apply the top most universities and also needed to apply for the scholarships. It is better if somebody can learn a bit about Korean Language. It is not mandatory, but this will make life easier both academically and personally, though in research everything is in English. To prepare a good CV and cover letter is very much important. You can directly contact with Professor through email after searching the email address in website of different universities and also can apply for scholarships. Most of the universities have English webpage. So, there is nothing to worry about to get information. The Korean embassy in Bangladesh also make announcement every year (probably March to April) for Korean government scholarship for bachelor, Master and PhD students. Somebody can keep their eye open and apply for it.
Scientific Bangladesh: From your experience, what are your suggestions? In choosing (1) topic, (2) Institute and (3) Country for PhD?
Dr. Arif: It depends on individual perspectives. Everybody knows their ability, choice and has their own objectives and should try according to that in terms of choosing topic, institute/universities and country for PhD. I would recommend choosing the option which is superior, best and recognized worldwide and try for it. But in my thinking it’s not a good idea to waste so many times to try for a particular place (country and institute) and position. If not successful, it is very much frustrating. So, it is much better to try which has the best possibility and scope. This will save the time to finish up the PhD more quickly. If someone do very good research work in PhD periods, then can move anywhere to get better position as per expectation I believe.
Scientific Bangladesh: What suggestions /demand would you like to make for Bangladesh Government, particularly science ministry from your experience?
Dr. Arif: In Bangladesh, there is no satisfactory scope for getting a good job for the students who graduates from Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Dept. Also a small percentage of students get chance to go outside for higher study, even though many others have high interest to study outside, but do not get chance due to lack of better chance. We also sometime are not able to do something for them. Therefore, our country policy should create more opportunity for higher study, not only for the top class students but also for other good students who want to study abroad. In this regards, education and research collaboration can be made with our Asian countries around which are doing at their best such as South Korea, Japan, Singapore, China and others to give facilities and more scholarships to our students which will be relatively easier compared to American or European countries.
Scientific Bangladesh: Bangladesh soon is going to be recognized as scholar exporter, instead of labor exporter. Will you agree with this statement keeping in mind the increasing number of PhD students in South Korea?
Dr. Arif: Yes, I absolutely agree what you have said. And this has been one of our attempts too who are studying or doing job as researcher or faculty here at South Korea. Every year a number of students are coming to study in Bachelor, Master or PhD and these numbers have been increasing exponentially in recent years. But I would say in most of the cases, students (especially for Master and PhD) are coming through personal communication. Few are getting Korean Government Scholarships. I think it would be very nice if our country policy look after this sector very seriously and create more scholar export opportunities by making bilateral agreement similar like labor export. And it is a very good chance at the moment because South Korea wants to expose their development by accepting more foreigners and foreign students’. Bangladesh can take these opportunities by sending talented students to learn modern scientific research who can go back to implement that in our country whenever needed.
Scientific Bangladesh: Lastly, we would like to know about your dream of establishing a biomedical research centre in Bangladesh?
Dr. Arif: I am really dreaming about it. If we can do it, this can override the frustration of young Biotechnologists in Bangladesh (YoungBB) (as well as students who are studying applied biological field) for getting suitable job in our country and can utilize the knowledge of our respected Global Network of Bangladeshi Biotechnologists (GNOBB) for conducting world class biomedical research and creating biotech job sections as well as interest to it from everywhere. We have many active students as well as our senior fellows and Professors in Bangladesh and in different countries who can help. Also, our pharmaceutical sector is very big and expanding worldwide day by day. My initial thinking is to utilize the big pharmaceutical companies to grow their interest about biomedical research and make them thinking to realize that it can be beneficial in not only academic sector but also in industrial level. I think they can create very good facilities and contribute to improve R&D sector much more if they have wish and strong mind. Also government support and policy is highly essential. And several recent scientific outcomes in Bangladesh surely can convince government support that I hope. It will take time for a well organized plan. I am not sure which is the right time to start for that, but I believe we need this and it won't be an easy job to inaugurate. It will be appreciated and nice to receive any constructive comments and/or suggestions regarding this issue.
Scientific Bangladesh: Thanks for your time and insight
Dr. Arif: I would like to thank ‘Scientific Bangladesh’ for their interest about me and my work. Also thank for bringing few important issues to improve scientific education and research sector in Bangladesh. Hope people can get help and interest more toward biomedical study and research field.