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Scientific Engagement in the Broader Middle East and North Africa: Lessons in Promoting a Safe and Secure Research Environment

This report describes the challenges faced and suggestions made for promoting safe, ethical, and secure life sciences research in the broader Middle East and North African regions. The information relayed in this report comes from four workshops and a collaborative sub-grant program that the American Association for the Advancement of Science Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) conducted in the region between 2010 and 2012. CSTSP held the meetings in collaboration with the Jordan University of Science and Technology, Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, Institute Pasteur of Tunis, University of Tunis Faculty of Science, and Dubai Healthcare City. The project was conducted with the generous support of the U.S. Department of State Biosecurity Engagement Program.

The 21st century has been called the age of biotechnology with its rapid advances benefiting health, agriculture, the environment, and energy.3 Many countries have invested heavily in biological research, and education and training of young scientists to address local and national challenges. At the same time, concerns have been raised about the safety and security of the conduct and communication of biological research, and use of biology to deliberately cause harm. During the past decade, several countries and intergovernmental organizations have initiated activities to reduce the safety and security risks associated with biological research and harmful infectious diseases. 

The outstanding challenge of promoting research and scientific collaboration to address national needs, while minimizing the potential risks of theft and misuse of research and results, must be addressed if the benefits of biology are to be realized. The AAAS project in the BMENA sought to address this challenge by linking scientific collaboration and research conduct with responsible science (ethical, safe, and secure research). 

As a result of AAAS's project, several scientists have established institutional review bodies to review human and animal subjects research, initiated long term international partnerships, proposed initiatives to address biosafety and biosecurity, and joined together to create a regional network focused on promoting biological research and responsible science. In addition to these successes, the project encountered several difficulties. Specific lessons learned from the meetings and collaborative grant program are described in detail in the report. Heeding these lessons will provide future opportunities for productively and positively engaging with BMENA scientists on highly sensitive issues such as biosecurity and biosafety.