Wednesday, 26 July 2017
TRC monetary fuel propels SQU research engine
TRC monetary fuel propels SQU research engine
Sun, 18 April 2010

Nine research projects from Sultan Qaboos University have been selected for financial assistance from The Research Council (TRC) under the latter’s open research grant programme. The research projects signed are in health and social sectors (four), biology and environmental resources (two), education and human resources (one) and energy and industry (two).
The College of Medicine and Health Sciences secured funds for four projects, colleges of Agriculture and Marine Sciences, and Engineering are awarded two projects each and one project is won by the College of Science. The first open research grant signing ceremony was held a few day ago.

Solar and Wind Energy Resources Assessment
A research team from the Renewable and Sustainable Energies Research Group (RASERG) at SQU has been awarded a grant of RO 152,900 from The Research Council (TRC) to conduct a research on solar and wind energy resources assessment. The researchers are Dr Adel Alqastali (PI), Dr Yassine Charabi (Co-PI), Dr Saleh Alalawi (Co-I, from the Authority for Electricity Regulations), and Dr Jumaa al Maskari (Co-I from the Ministry of Transport and Communication, Directorate General of Meteorology and Civil Aviation).

One PhD student and several undergraduate students from SQU will be also taking part in this study. The research team will also seek collaboration from national and international organisations such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in USA. Dr Adel Alqastali said that this research project will investigate the solar and wind energy potential in Oman through analysis of wide geographical and meteorological data and development of models and maps.

“It will help identify the best locations for implementing wind and solar energy for electricity generation at both small and large scales. This is the first study of its kind conducted for Oman. The outcomes of this research will be very useful to the country and will be used as accurate and trustful references in different categories: research and consultancy, economical growth and energy planning, and business/investment planning. At the same time it will develop expertise and more awareness about renewable energies in Oman”, Dr Alqastali revealed.

Digital media platform in anatomy education
Dr Ibrahim Inua, Associate Professor in Human and Clinical Anatomy Department of the College of Medicine is the Principal Investigator of the project titled “Effectiveness of a Flexible Digital Media Platform in Anatomy Education” which has been awarded with a grant of RO 16,900 from the Research Council.

Commenting on the project, Dr Inua said that in Oman and other similar parts of the world human material (cadavers) for teaching purposes is almost impossible to obtain locally. Consequently, innovation is required in teaching human anatomy without losing reality. Technology has the potential to help in this situation where whatever material is available can be digitised and presented to student using sound teaching pedagogy.

“This project aims to explore new technologies for anatomy teaching with particular emphasis to students with English as a second language. Its main objective is to create interactive, high-resolution software learning package for human anatomy and evaluate its effectiveness in enhancing learning as measured by student feedback and performance in objective tests.

It is hypothesised that the material to be developed in this project will afford students the flexibility of learning anatomy in a variety of settings. It will also have potential commercial benefits in the sense that learning packages could be marketed across the region and the world”, Dr Inua added.

Molecular characterisation of begomovirus
The proposal for a project titled “Molecular characterisation of begomovirus associated with tomato and other crops and screening of tomato cultivars tolerant to leaf curl virus” is submitted by the Department of Crop Sciences. Dr Jamal Khan, Associate Professor is the Principal Investigator of the project. This project has fetched R.O. 132,000 as budget from TRC.

Dr Jamal Khan said that whitefly-transmitted geminiviruses are currently the main biotic constraint to tomato production in Oman and many other countries in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. In an attempt to control this insect vector producers are using increasing amounts of pesticides, which poses threat to health and environment, and there has been little benefit from their use and abuse.

“Resistance of the whitefly to the newer and most effective insecticides seems to be occurring, as evidenced by recent increases in the whitefly populations in some parts of Oman. Producers have responded by increasing their levels of applied technology, using more chemicals and buying virus-free seedlings. Production costs have therefore increased, yet crop yields have gone down”, he added.

According to Dr Khan, the use of genetic resistance in integrated pest management is an alternative, which has not been utilised in Oman in the development of strategies for the control of the whitefly-geminivirus complex. Leaf curl virus is found associated with tomatoes in all regions of Oman with varying degree of disease incidence ranging from 5 to 100 per cent.

This TRC funded project offers a unique opportunity to apply technology from diverse fields, virology, molecular biology, and genetics in search of the solution of a pressing agricultural problem in Oman and to provide additional tools towards the development of sustainable tomato production systems in the country. Capacity building and student’s training on cutting edge technology in molecular virology would be one of the achievements of this project.

Occupational health and safety issues
Dr Ashraf Shikdar, Associate Professor and Head of the Dept of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, and his team will investigate occupational health and safety issues affecting worker performance in Omani industries. This project is funded by TRC grant for energy and industry sectors. Dr Shikdar said that occupational health and safety (OHS) are often neglected in industries, especially in small and medium industries. Investing on OHS is considered a cost rather than investment due to lack of knowledge, personnel and resource constraints.

“A healthy workforce and a safe workplace could positively affect worker performance. Improving OHS and worker performance are major concerns of industries, especially in developing countries. Application of Ergonomics or Human Factors Engineering in industries has been found to improve occupational health and safety and worker productivity. This has both direct and indirect effects on overall performance of an industry”, he added.

Dr Shikdar further said that Oman can significantly benefit from this research, as it would investigate current status of OHS and worker productivity, ways to improve OHS and worker productivity and implement improvement strategies in industries. In the long run, OHS regulations and guidelines will be in place, industries will be in compliance with national and international standards and these will make Omani industries more productive and competitive in the region and globally.

Characterisation of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Omanis
Clinical and genetic characterisation of type 2 diabetes mellitus in Omanis is another research project funded by TRC. Prof Riyad Bayoumi, Head of the Department of Biochemistry, who is the principal investigator of the project, said that a research group of 5 physicians and 10 scientists from SQU Hospital and College of Medicine & Health Sciences will investigate genetic basis of Type-2 diabetes among Omanis at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital.

“One thousand patients and an equal number of controls will be examined using global guidelines set by the International Diabetes Federation to guarantee the adequacy of characterisation of the disease”, Professor Bayoumi said. In affluent societies the common form of diabetes (Type 2) has reached almost epidemic proportions, (5-10 per cent). Now it is increasingly being diagnosed in young adults and even children.

In Oman, the prevalence of type-2 diabetes has increased dramatically over the past 15 years due to the rapid urbanisation and marked changes in life style. Prevalence has reached 17 per cent in the capital Muscat and 11 per cent in rural areas. As such, it represents one of the major health problems in Oman. Diabetes is attended by severe complications. It is the most common cause of blindness, lower limb amputation, coronary artery disease and end-stage renal failure.

“We believe that this study will add to our understanding of the pathophysiology of the disease. It will also help in developing strategies for risk prediction in susceptible individuals and guide physicians in choosing the appropriate therapy for specific patients. The study is also designed to update and raise the standard of care for diabetics in Oman, and provide new avenues for training young Omani researchers”, Prof. Bayoumi explained.

Oceanographic regime shift in the Sea of Oman
Oceanographic regime shift in the Sea of Oman is the project awarded with TRC grant of RO 146,000. Dr Sergey Piontkovski, Associate Professor in Department of Marine Science and Fisheries is the Principal Investigator of this study. Commenting on the importance of his project, Dr Piontkovski said that the concept of oceanographic regime shifts reveals how changes in ecosystems might lead to rapid shifts between alternative steady states.

“In the northern Atlantic Ocean for instance, the mid-1980’s marked a shift from a predominance of cold-water to warm-water species, as the bio-geographical boundary along the European continental shelf moved north, due to global warming,” he said. Through the analysis of data available from archives, ongoing field sampling, remote sensing, and modelling, the project sets up an opportunity to understand if a regime shift took place on the scale of the Sea of Oman.

Being applicable, the theoretical frame of the regime shift concept could provide Omani scientists and local managers with the modern approach optimising understanding of harmful algal blooms which caused dramatic loses to the aquaculture, fisheries, economy, and tourism in the Sultanate of Oman.

Through the involvement of the PhD and graduate students along with faculty and overseas colleagues, the project broadens the infrastructure of SQU for research and education. It provides financial support and research opportunities for PhD students, graduate students, and faculty.

Genomic Study of Inherited Neurological Disorders

TRC grant has been awarded under health and social services sector to a study titled “A Community Genomic Study of Inherited Neurological Disorders in Oman”. Dr Aisha Alkhayat Al Shehi, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the College of Science is the principal investigator of this project. Dr Aisha said that the burden of inherited diseases such as Autosomal recessive inheritance is a major social and financial burden on global health.

Among certain ethnic groups, autosomal recessive conditions reach a particularly high frequency and are a major cause of perinatal and long term childhood disease and suffering. However in such communities knowledge of the genetic basis of such conditions provides the opportunity to offer accurate premarital or pre-pregnancy testing to inform diagnostic counseling and potentially reduce the burden of such diseases”, she said.

In Oman, the improvement in general health and clinical services has led to a greater awareness of the genetic disorders, and the number of these conditions identified is increasing. Autosomal recessive disorders are the most common form of inherited disease in the country and are a major cause of childhood morbidity. Dr Aisha further said that the main objective of this project is disease gene mapping.

“The study will make use of existing and innovative techniques in trying to find the causative genes of few genetic disorders that affect the Omani community in addition to establishing a base for disease gene identification pipeline formed in Oman”, she added.

The other two projects
The other two projects are again from the College of Medicine & Health Sciences. Dr Salam Al Kindy, Head of the Department of Hematology is the Principal Investigator of the Project titled “Molecular Genetics of alpha globin gene expression in native Omani Population: towards understanding the molecular basis of alpha thalassaemia and impact on clinical expression of beta thalassaemia and sickle cell disease”.

Alpha and beta thalassaemia are reported widely in the Arab populations at variable frequencies. It often coexist with the structurally abnormal hemoglobin like HbS or HbC or HbD. The prevalence of abnormal hemoglobins in Oman is high. The project is undertaken in the context that no systematic screening exists in the Sultanate for alpha TRC SQU 2 thalassaemia although beta thalassaemia is widely studied.

The project titled “Effect of Gum Arabic on an animal model of chronic renal failure” will be carried out by Prof. Badreldin Ali, Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and his team. Chronic renal failure (CRF) is on the increase imposing expensive and rising demand on health care systems. Supplementation with fermentable carbohydrate such as Gum acacia (GA) decreases urea.

Effects of GA on renal function impairment using many physiological, histological and biochemical and genotoxic variables in rats with adenine — induced chronic renal failure will be studied. Its cardiovascular, reproductive, behavioural consequences also will be investigated during the course of the project. The possible mechanism(s) of Gum acacia nephroprotection will also be investigated.

General contact:   Prof. Sergey Piontkovski
@ 2010 - 2016