Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Biomedical Materials

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By Prof. Dr. Saadat Anwar Siddiqi

THE STORY of the creation of IRCBM, Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Biomedical Materials, is somehow linked with the most deadly earthquake of Pakistan on October 8, 2005. More than 80,000 people had died and several thousands in-capacitated due to amputations in addition to rendering millions homeless and to the mercy of the elements. One of the most striking aspects of this sense of helplessness accentuated the need for artificial orthopaedic implants. Thousands of the injured could have been rehabilitated if the suitable biomedical materials were manufactured locally. This ignited the need for the creation of a dedicated research and development centre Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Biomedical Materials, IRCBM, at COMSATS IIT, Lahore.
Biomedical materials is an interdisciplinary field that covers chemistry, physics, biology, medicine and engineering. No other place could have been so suitable as compared to Lahore where one can find institutes, universities, research organizations and industry so close to each other.
Prof. Dr. Shahzad Mufti joined IRCBM in December 2007 as an Advisor and In charge of the Centre. Under his leadership a PC-1, worth Rs. 38 million entitled “Strengthening of the department of biomedical material sciences at CIIT, Lahore” got approved and paved the way for launching the targeted research work at IRCBM.
Bone injuries in road accidents are one of the most common human tragedies occurring continuously as we write and bone repair or bone replacement is a common consequence for clinicians. The need for biomedical implants for restoring the normality or enhancing the quality of life is an obvious need. Unfortunately, no proper locally made and reasonably priced materials are available. For repairing injured bones, Bone Fillers are not made in Pakistan and imports are expensive. An advanced bone filler costs about $1850 per 15 ml. This is just one simple example, otherwise the use of such materials ranges from bone fillers to heart valves, ophthalmic lenses, dental implants and stents for opening the heart veins etc. In all of these circumstances, Pakistan has to rely on expensive imports.
The vision of IRCBM is to improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis by promoting and conducting application oriented interdisciplinary research in the field of Biomedical Materials in the country and also by translating ongoing research into low cost high quality commercial products.
Currently, IRCBM has four fully equipped laboratories for the synthesis of bio-ceramic and polymer based materials. A material characterization laboratory has also been established with the facilities of infrared spectroscopy, universal mechanical testing, scanning calorimetric, thermogravimetric analysis and optical metallurgy.
In a very short span of time IRCBM researchers have submitted over 13 research projects for funding from various national and international funding agencies. The total funding secured to date is over Rs. 132 million.
The centre will continue to play its role in promoting a culture of interdisciplinary research through its extensive outreach program and series of symposiums and other literary activities. Khwarizmi Science Society, founded by Dr. Saadat Anwar Siddiqi in 1996, has also joined hands with IRCBM.
This bold initiative in the shape of IRCBM needs to be further strengthened and the momentum gained must be maintained by providing adequate funds. For long, Pakistanis have relied on expensive imports and foreign aid to serve its healthcare needs. Healthcare is a basic necessity and a fundamental right of every citizen. Moreover, Pakistan has immense potential in terms of interdisciplinary research and it is high-time it utilizes its potential to contribute scientifically at a global stage.
It is hoped that IRCBM at COMSATS IIT Lahore would make its own mark in redressing the shortfall in the biomaterials in Pakistan and the country would be better equipped to cope with the natural disasters the one like 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.
The writer is Advisor COMSATS Institute of Technology, Lahore. He can be reached at saadatanwar@ciitlahore.edu.pk


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