By Khalid El Bairi, MD
The Moroccan Association for Research and Ethics (Association Marocaine de Recherche et d’Ethique; MARE) was founded in 2017 by Dr. Nadia El Kadmiri to promote research and ethical standards in academia. This association recently participated in training young researchers in Africa to perform accurate research and develop their careers by providing training opportunities and workshops. In addition, MARE also acts as an ethics committee to review research proposals for clinical and biomedical researchers wishing to execute research plans involving human participants as recommended by the Helsinki declaration. This was long awaited as such committees are rare in under-resourced settings. This aligns with Morocco’s national efforts to implement ethics committees in all regions of our country to support researchers working in biomedical fields. MARE has also launched a peer-reviewed journal, The International Journal of Research and Ethics (ISSN 2665-7481), which publishes a variety of article types dedicated to health sciences and ethics. Of note, Morocco has no PubMed-indexed journal yet—such a project would be a good initiative to build journals that publish local research and merits national and international support.
This year, MARE organized its third international meeting on research and innovation, which was held on May 14, 2022, at the conference rooms of the polydisciplinary faculty of Taroudant. Of note, Taroudant is a city located in the southern region of Morocco and is considered an under-resourced setting, with one polydisciplinary faculty only available for students to pursue a science career after high school. The program of this event, in which 280 scientists and researchers (mainly young professionals) and PhD students participated from Morocco, Mali, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Algeria, included an opening ceremony of plenary conferences and nine parallel sessions encompassing medicine and health sciences, social sciences, chemistry, and other fields.
Following the opening ceremony on how the National Human Development Initiative (INDH) can support researchers of this region by providing funding to support their projects, Dr. Hind Mouhanni led a conference on the innovation process and technology transfer based on a case discussion of the innovation city of the Souss-Massa region. This program aims to create research and development platforms around the university to develop research and innovation by interacting researchers with industry. This was an important seminar targeting young researchers to build a career in entrepreneurship, a very awaited skill to be developed by early-career researchers to run a business enterprise in addition to careers in academia.
Next was my plenary conference, “How to Build a ‘Harvardian’ Research Career in Morocco?”, in which I discussed how early-career cancer researchers in Africa can publish excellence and participate in their country’s development through respectable research. This seminar was a motivational session to encourage young scientists to pursue careers in research and it focused on tips and ideas to accurately respond to cancer research questions using what is available in research settings despite the absence of funding. In fact, this is called “affordable cancer research” and it is an emerging field, just like the evolving “global oncology” initiative. My work to advance cancer research among young professionals in my region is inspired a quote attributed to Serge Haroche, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2012: “The wealth of a country comes from the minds of its people.”
Dr. El Bairi gives a motivational presentation for early-career researchers during the plenary session. Photo courtesy of Mr. Said Elhiyak.
Selected conferences and seminars in the oncology area during this event encompassed various emerging topics. This included the impact of genetics in delivering targeted therapeutics for colorectal cancer, led by Dr. Hind Dehbi, and the cornerstone place of genetics in breast cancer and how it considerably affects patients’ outcomes, led by Dr. Amal Tazzite. Other presentations in the area of infection agents and cancer were on the prevalence and the risk factors of human papillomavirus infections in women, as well as the possible association of a signature of viral infections with prostate cancer in a cohort of Moroccan patients. Two abstracts on gastric cancer provided evidence that studying molecular pathology in resource-constrained settings can be achieved by using available techniques, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Indeed, the authors of this research demonstrated that promoter methylation status of TP53 anti-oncogene in gastric cancer can be associated with Epstein-Barr virus infection, in addition to the effects of the cytotoxin-associated gene A (cagA) and the DU promoting gene A (dupA) genetic status of Helicobacter pylori on gastric lesions in the population of southern Morocco. In fact, mapping these virulence genes in gastric mucosa may provide new insights on how Helicobacter pylori infection triggers carcinogenesis via modulating host inflammation response.1 An important real-world study investigated survival outcomes of patients with glioblastoma—a neglected cancer in Morocco. Promisingly, this attempt to provide survival data on this aggressive cancer may contribute to building a population-based registry of tumors of the central nervous system and adapt efficient health interventions in this southern region of Morocco. Regarding hematologic malignancies, two real-life abstracts based on retrospective patients’ series provided data on the cytogenetics of myeloproliferative diseases and the available molecular testing for JAK2 V617F mutations. This experience also highlights the fact that this field of molecular medicine is evolving in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and there are notable efforts invested in these settings to train medical geneticists and provide better care of patients with genetic disorders.
Poster sessions included four research works in the field of oncology, including epidemiologic evidence on non-small cell lung cancer in young patients, adverse events of radiation treatments for cancers of the upper aero-digestive tract, and the issue of sleep disturbance among women with breast cancer. Promisingly, a PhD student discussed the analgesic properties of resiniferatoxin from an endemic cactus-like medicinal plant of the southern region of Morocco called Euphorbia resinifera and its effects on cancer pain relief, which may provide new perspectives for drug discovery. In fact, this bioactive compound has shown efficacy as an alternative to opioids in patients with advanced cancer in early-clinical development studies2 and it is being studied in several clinical trials to manage intractable severe pain associated with cancer as an epidural injection (see NCT00804154, NCT05067257, and NCT02522611 for details). Remarkably, this shows how using local plant heritage may contribute to the development of health care in this region through ethnopharmacological research.
In addition to the highly reduced registration fees which allows a significant number of early-career researchers to participate in this scientific event, one other important thing has attracted my attention. The whole event was wonderfully organized by doctoral and master degree students of this institution without a third-party event organizer. In fact, similar under-resourced settings may use this approach to cost-effectively organize scientific events. Involving young researchers in such events is essential for developing the future generation of passionate scientists with the required soft skills for building a better professional career in LMICs.
Young researchers participated in organizing the 3rd International Day of Taroudant on Research and Innovation under the supervision of Dr. Nadia El Kadmiri, chair and coordinator of the event. Photo courtesy of Mr. Said Elhiyak.
In addition, the multidisciplinary feature of this event was of a high value and enabled direct interaction between researchers from all fields to build collaboration and boost networking. I was pleased to share my non-oncologic work in the field of research integrity and misconduct. I discussed our survey findings on plagiarism perception among Moroccan academics, and the issue of predatory journals. This attracted much attention during my oral lecture as it was the first time a talk was given on such sensitive issues, which are still a taboo in our country. At the end of this event, some researchers and students had the opportunity to be selected for the best oral and poster presentations, which will encourage them in their research careers.
It took me 2 days of traveling 2,600 kilometers on a public bus to participate in this event, but the time and effort were worth it to share my knowledge and learn from others. I anticipate contributing again to this enjoyable event next year.
Dr. El Bairi is a research associate in the Department of Medical Oncology at Mohammed VI University Hospital, in Oujda, Morocco, and he is preparing for a career in medical oncology. He joined the ASCO Trainee & Early Career Advisory Group as a member for the 2022-2023 term. The contents of this paper reflect the author's perspective and not that of his institution of affiliation. Follow Dr. El Bairi on Twitter @elbairikhalid19. Disclosure.
- Takahashi-Kanemitsu A, Knight CT, Hatakeyama M. Molecular anatomy and pathogenic actions of helicobacter pylori cagA that underpin gastric carcinogenesis. Cell Mol Immunol. 2020;17:50-63.
- Kuehn B. Plant-chemical shows promise for pain relief. JAMA. 2018;319:760.