Ten Years for Nepal

TIE hosted Dibesh Karmacharya to discuss Public Health, Conservation, and Research Culture in Nepal

Tuesday, June 27, 2017: The Tufts Institute of the Environment hosted visiting scholar, Dibesh Karmacharya on June 20, 2017 to discuss: “Understanding Biodiversity, Environment, and Disease Dynamics Using Latest Technologies: Developing Research Culture in Nepal.” Reflecting on the last decade, Dibesh Karmacharya recalls the question that prompted his initiative towards implementing a leading research institution that could contribute to public health and conservation: “What can be done in Nepal?”

Prior to the founding of the Center for Molecular Dynamics-Nepal (CDMN), Karmacharya noted: “There was no information on infectious and non-communicative diseases. There was no capacity and no research culture in Nepal. Diseases require a baseline [to respond effectively]. We needed the capacity to do research.” Recognizing these shortcomings to combat illness and outbreak, Karmacharya was determined to found a lab that would allow researchers to detect and respond to disease outbreaks and contribute to preventative action.

Reaching out to Nepal, Karmacharya persuaded Kathmandu University professor of biotechnology Sameer M Dixit to join his initiative. The pair was soon joined by Rajesh Rajbhandari, Prachanda Man Sakya, and Raqjesh Bajraccharya, and in 2007, Karmacharya and the founding team succeeded in establishing CMDN. Only a year later a collaboration with Intrepid Nepal (INPL) allowed CMDN to expand into a diagnostics laboratory. The next ten years saw Karmacharya’s vision fulfilled, as CMDN expanded into the leading research institution in Nepal for human health and wildlife disease and conservation.

Some of CMDN’s leading conservation initiatives today include the Nepal Tiger Genome Project, which succeeded in collecting a genetic database of all the Bengal tigers found in the Terai region in 2013. Among its other conservation efforts, CMDN is conducting a genetic analysis of snow leopards, an investigation of the taxonomy of Himalayan wolves, viral disease detection in pigs, and is working to develop molecular diagnostic tools to aid in the detection of Tuberculosis and Herpes in Asian Elephants.

These conservation efforts have naturally intersected with public health matters, Karmacharya notes, as 70% of diseases are zoonotic, about half of which potentially could be transferable to humans. Approaching public health from his conservation background, Karmacharya is interested in exploring how viruses spill over from one species to another. This mindset has paved the way for a number of projects at CMDN, including Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Profiling and the implementation of the University of California-Davis’ PREDICT-II initiative to counteract the risk of increased interactions between humans and animals by conducting emerging disease surveillance to detect evolving pandemic threats.

CMDN will celebrate its 10th year anniversary in October, but is still tirelessly working to expand its research and initiatives. Among the new ventures includes the start-up Intrepid Geoinformatics Pvt. Ltd (IGPL) to expand CDMN’s GIS capacity and the Intrepid Diagnostic Center (IDC) to increase biotechonology-based tools to aid disease detection in Nepal. While CMDN’s successes have seen Karmacharya’s dream for a research center in Nepal realized, he continues to look forward, asserting that “we can do better.”

Taylor Parrish, TIE Graduate Intern

TIE Photo Credit: Michael LaScaleia