October 30, 2011

A new study on the research productivity in Syria puts the Syrian Center for Tobacco Studies (SCTS) as the leading institution for high-quality biomedical research in the nation. The center has far fewer staff members and other resources than many of the institutions with which it is compared.

According to the study, published in the inaugural issue of the Avicenna Journal of Medicine (July–September 2011), Syria’s Damascus University and its affiliated hospitals generated 56 percent of the clinical and biomedical research, followed by SCTS (15 percent) and the Syrian Ministry of Health and its affiliated hospitals (9 percent). But when the age of the institution is considered, SCTS, established in 2002, is the leading institution in research with an annual average of five publications per year.

The study authors note the need to promote research capabilities and to bridge the gap in research productivity by Syrian institutions. In an editorial for the same journal issue, Wasim Maziak, Ph.D., professor at Florida International University and director of SCTS, also talks about the lack of biomedical research in Arab countries and cites SCTS as a successful case study in how a smaller institution with fewer resources can produce high-quality biomedical research.

Initial funding for SCTS in 2002 came from a NIDA-supported 5-year Fogarty International Tobacco and Health Research and Capacity-Building Program grant, which has since been renewed. In addition to Dr. Maziak, the SCTS team includes collaborating scientists Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., Virginia Commonwealth University, and Kenneth Ward, Ph.D., University of Michigan, as well as the Syrian team of scientists and administrators.

The center is a model of international cooperation for the establishment of a sustainable research base in a developing country. It addresses the need to create local expertise not only in research methodology, but also in research support and fundraising areas. The center is currently working to examine patterns and determinants of tobacco use, understand local tobacco use methods, develop effective cessation interventions, and train tobacco control scientists. Last year’s regional training course held in Amman, Jordan, focused on tobacco dependence treatment.

The formula for success, says Maziak in his editorial, is the “professionals who understand what is needed to create a productive research environment, have some autonomy, and are successful in competing for international research funding.”