​Lisbon Calling: AKU Team Visits Partners in Portugal

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has a longstanding presence in Portugal that goes back to 1983 and extends across health, education, and economic and social development.  Portuguese institutions and AKU share priorities and thematic goals in Asia and Africa, making them key strategic partners for mobility, research, creation of knowledge networks, and curriculum development and training initiatives.

Working to build on these connections and extend our partnerships with the academic and research institutions in that region, an AKU delegation visited Lisbon, Portugal from 12th – 18th September 2021. The key objective of this visit was to reengage and to discuss the way forward in terms of new and existing projects in medicine, cancer research, brain and mind, stem cell, media, and communications, data science, Muslim studies, and the humanities. AKU continues working with the Catholic University of Portugal (CUP) since 2008, and with Universidade NOVA de Lisboa (NOVA) since 2019. AKU has been collaborating with the Champalimaud and Gulbenkian Foundations, has had initial discussions with the University of Lisbon, and has built strong relationships with the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Higher Education of the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamate on Science and Technology.

The visit by the AKU team resulted in various goals across disciplines. In data science, agile software development methodologies will be utilized to identify ideal working models for Project-Based Learning (PBL) with CUP and NOVA. Within the Brain and Mind (BMI), an agreement is underway which will allow AKU students to have access to wet labs and equipment, as well as increase their opportunity to train with neuroscience teams in Portugal. Within the area of cancer research, discussions took place to promote clinical research and joint clinical trials with AKU students, faculty, and staff. Furthermore, AKU will have access to cancer-based technology in Portugal such as research on tumors using a Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) and Cyberknife technology.

Moreover, AKU has been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 in Pakistan and East Africa and is continuously conducting real-time research to understand the virus and the way it affects people. Dr Zahra Hasan, a molecular pathologist at AKUH has played a crucial part in understanding COVID-19, by analyzing the genetic makeup and diversity of its various strains and collaborating with NOVA University to explore the role of protective antibody responses in the progression of COVID-19 patients. Dr Hasan is in the process of submitting a grant for collaboration on research to the Higher Education Commission Grand Challenges Fund. The collaboration includes Dr Pedro Simas (Viral Pathogenesis Lab), Dr Marc Veldhoen (University of Lisbon), and Dr Paula Alves (NOVA University).

Media and Communications is another area of a potential partnership, where there were discussions around knowledge sharing through guest lecture series and workshops with NOVA’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities. AKU along with NOVA are recipients of the Erasmus+ ICM Grant which allows bi-directional mobility for joint training and teaching opportunities which provides funding for exchanges in areas of Public Health and Social Sciences for Pakistan and East Africa.  This visit has opened up avenues for additional global engagement grant opportunities with more European partners.

The overall visit has resulted in invaluable collaborative opportunities, new funding sources, and fostering an environment for global connections. The President of Portugal, His Excellency Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and Professor Manuel Heitor, the Minister for Science, Technology, and Higher Education in P​ortugal both expressed their support for current and future initiatives with AK​U and are keen to develop strategic partnerships and joint initiatives which will foster global collaborative efforts, cultural diversity, and move towards improving the quality of life of the communities we serve. ​​