Prominent cardiologist stresses importance of science in future Egypt

Published online 3 May 2011

Mohammed Yahia

Speaking to a large audience at the American University in Cairo (AUC) during the opening of the second annual Cairo Science Festival, renowned heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub discussed the pivotal role that science and technology can play in propelling post-revolution Egypt towards its rightful international place.

Egyptian-born Yacoub, who went on to perform more heart transplants than any other surgeon in the world, told the audience that science can benefit humanity in more than one way.

"It is a privilege for me to be here during the Cairo Science Festival because it is my belief that science is the saviour of Egypt," he said. "Science also gives dignity, and, to me, dignity is the most important thing in the world."

Yacoub went on to discuss the tenth anniversary of the first draft of the human genome sequence, which is being celebrated this year. He acknowledged the great discoveries made since then, but stressed that there is still a long way to go and discoveries to be made, which "may include Egyptian scientists".

Science still holds many interesting possibilities for improving human health, he adds, such as organ generation, tackling genetic mutations and the era of personalized medicine.

Yacoub is currently working on tissue engineering to examine cellular and molecular environments to produce scaffolds that can help regenerate heart valves. "It is nanobiotechnology if you may. We are trying to emulate nature in self-replicating by using these molecular scaffolds."

The annual Cairo Science Festival, still only in its second year, is held in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Cambridge Science Festival and the University of California San Diego Science Festival in the United States. It is an opportunity to get the public to interact directly with science in fun and exciting ways.

"This is a three-week extravaganza that will include dialogues with Nobel laureates and luminaries," said Lisa Anderson, president of the AUC. The festival will also include science cafes with leading Egyptian researchers on topics ranging from nanotechnology to the role of the internet in the uprisings around the region and to life in space.

"It is designed to take science out of the classrooms and to the public," adds Anderson.

"You spend 25% of your life in formal education in school and university. This is not enough," said Alaa Ibrahim, an astrophysicist at the AUC and the director of the Cairo Science Festival. There is a need for continuous informal education after universities and that is the role of the festival, he added.

Several prominent Egyptian scientists, including chemistry Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail and Farouk El-Baz, director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University, have recently returned to the country after the 25 January Revolution that toppled 30-year-president Hosni Mubarak. They have all stressed that a renewed focus on education, science and technology will be essential to develop Egypt.

"This new dawn of freedom after 25 January could be promising in pushing Egypt in a new direction of science," said Yacoub.