Developing Research Bridges between Nepal and Finland

Last autumn, FIMM had the pleasure of welcoming our friends and collaborators from the Nepalese research institute, Research Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology (RIBB), to visit Finland. The cooperation between FIMM and RIBB has been going on for years and more activities are currently planned.

The main purpose of the visit was to discuss possible new initiatives to strengthen collaboration to help advance research and training opportunities for RIBB investigators and their Nepalese network.

During the visit, the RIBB Co-founder and President Prajwal Rajbhandari and the coordinator of the Engage Nepal with Science programme, Suvechhya Bastola, had several meetings with FIMM staff members and leadership, and presented the ongoing activities at RIBB to the FIMM community.

RIBB, located in Lalitpur, is a unique endeavor and one of only a few institute in Nepal where experimental scientific research is done. The institute has ambitious and visionary goals that, in addition to research, focus on training and supervising junior scientists and researchers, and developing a culture of science engagement in Nepalese communities.

“Not only we ensure that the junior researchers we train are better prepared for continuing their studies abroad, but also to give a reason for them to return to Nepal and continue their work here to create a vibrant research ecosystem,” Mr. Rajbhandari said.

The collaboration with FIMM researchers has been ongoing for years, initially facilitated by Prson Gautam, RIBB team member and one of the very first FIMM-EMBL PhD Training Programme students.

Natural Products, Environmental Sciences and Biomedicine Research

The research activities at RIBB are focused on exploring, characterizing and sustainable utilization of the natural environment and biodiversity (such as soil microbes and plants) of Nepal for the use of bioscience. Many of the ongoing projects are based on preparing different green extracts and essential oils, studying their bioactive compound composition and their potential industrial applications in Nepal. Environmental research topics, such as prevalence of antibiotic resistant pathogens in local fruits and vegetables and using basic molecular (PCR, RT-PCR) and metagenomics approaches  to identify contamination in surface water, are also at the heart of RIBB’s work.

The biomedical research is a newer endeavor for RIBB, but this area of research is developing rapidly. As a prerequisite for this, a new biosafety level 2 laboratory facility managed jointly by RIBB and Kathmandu Research Institute for Biological Sciences was recently opened at Biomedicum Research Campus, Lalitpur.

In 2018, RIBB hosted  the 2nd International Conference on Bioscience and Biotechnology (ICBB-2018), themed “Avenues of translational biomedical research in Nepal” that was organized with support and guest speakers from the FIMM research community. This conference kick-started collaboration between RIBB and the Nepal Cancer Hospital and Research Center (NCHRC) and established projects where RIBB investigators are exploiting cancer patients’ clinical and molecular data. 

Empowering Nepalese communities and building confidence in science

The Engage with Science outreach programme, coordinated by Suvechhya Bastola, is also very impressive. This project is a collaboration between RIBB and the Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology (WCB, University of Edinburgh, UK), established and led by Dr. Alba Abad from the University of Edinburgh.

In this programme, a team of researchers with strong science communication skills works with Nepalese schools, teachers and communities and organize workshops, science festivals and visits. They have also established a Public Bioscience Learning Center at RIBB. This initiative is a great example of an innovative project having a significant national impact despite the rather limited resources and funding. 

Overall, the FIMM community was truly inspired by the work done at RIBB and wanted to support it through a small Christmas donation. It became obvious that even with a little bit of money a lot can happen!

There are also many other possible ways to support the RIBB activities and further development. Some of the FIMM community members already serve in advisory roles for RIBB. Furthermore, a visiting expert programme and sharing of used laboratory instruments are also considered.  

“The interdisciplinary collaboration in health, education, and science initiatives underway through RIBB's international network of advisors is essential for progress in biomedical research and public health fitted to local Nepalese contexts,” said FIMM Strategic Research Coordinator Emmy Verschuren, RIBB Scientific Advisory Board member.