Focus: Low Energy: The biggest challenge to human development

Professor David Baltimore the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is currently researching on the importance of science, technology, and education to global prosperity and development. He holds that low energy supply is the biggest challenge to human development.
Prof Romain Murenzi welcomes Baltimore.
Prof Romain Murenzi welcomes Baltimore.

Professor David Baltimore the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is currently researching on the importance of science, technology, and education to global prosperity and development. He holds that low energy supply is the biggest challenge to human development.

Baltimore is an American virologist who shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology (Medicine) in 1975 with Howard M. Temin and Renato Dulbecco.

He visited Rwanda from 10th - 13th October 2007 and was impressed by the country’s emphasis on science and technology as the hallmarks for Rwanda’s economic development.

Baltimore delivered a public tele-conference lecture at King Faisal Hospital that brought together some of the best brains in Rwanda’s science sections.

Executives from the UN, Ministry of Health, President’s office, TRAC, CNLS and National University of Rwanda Science departments participated in the dialogue; this in itself was a manifestation of Rwanda’s ICT strength.

He said his work is part of the Millennium Development Goals - halting and reversing the spread of HIV/Aids and other infectious diseases.

“I specialize in protein design work and genetic therapy, and I applied to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund a cheaper discovery of antibodies to help prevent HIV. We are making good progress in my laboratory to find gene therapy, which will go a long way in weakening the HIV virus while increasing the immune system of the body.”

The lecture highlighted some of the enormous and varied problems faced in the world today, which focus particularly on the environment and social threats from rapid development.

Baltimore’s research with a grant from Bill and Melinda Gates aims at finding an alternative drug to be used in the prevention of HIV/Aids and supplement the existing drugs like ARVs.

The drug according to Baltimore “will deal with antibodies, through XY chromosomes in manipulating genes. It’s the fundamental tool in attacks on the immune system.”

The drug will focus on making viruses that will target and eliminate the elusive HIV cells. Baltimore said Bill and Melinda Gates are very much focused to eliminate HIV from the world.

Baltimore said that with genetic therapy his laboratory can manufacture cells which can move around the body killing bacteria that bring diseases in the system.

“HIV cannot be seen by antibodies which are used as a preventative mechanism against the virus. With genetic therapy we can increase the body immune system.”

He continued to say, “HIV reminds us of how dangerous nature can be and that it is possible for another health disaster as disastrous as HIV to come.”

A senior doctor from King Faisal raised the question why chimpanzees had survived being wiped out by HIV, yet many have been infected. Baltimore answered, “There’s some difference between how one animal reacts to the same threat or biological condition.”

On concerns by doctors from the National Teaching hospital in Butare that some patients stop reacting to ARVs after some point, Prof Baltimore said it is normal that patients’ immune systems with multiple infections stop responding to treatments of other infections. He advised medical doctors not to let patients get to that point.

Dr. Innocent Nyaruhirira the State Minister in charge of HIV/Aids and epidemic diseases raised concerns that major scientific discoveries especially in the field of HIV prevention are kept away from the patients who need them in developing countries.

“We need to find a link between patients and new discoveries and research in science,” he said.

Professor Romain Murenzi, Minister in-charge of Science and Technology in the President’s Office pointed out that policy makers have the responsibility to bring social economic developments near people at grass root communities.

“In Africa when you talk about science, people think about secondary education science. We need technology transfer; if more health centers are brought near patients, even people in rural communities can be able to learn and use the latest technological inventions.

Baltimore’s most powerful comment was about the importance of energy in eliminating poverty and facilitating industrial development today. He said on top of researching about genetic therapy as an alternative method in preventing HIV, his laboratory is involved in finding alternative types of energy to help in environmental conservation.

“Biology today is about using global energy production; we live in a world of diverse tools of science. Energy is the greatest challenge of mankind; we need to find other means of production that will release enormous carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere,” he said.

He said according to scientific research, “Each day, the sun releases rays that can produce enough energy to run the earth for a whole year. We need storage facilities to trap this energy from the sun for later use. We use a lot of energy in transportation; we need to find a liquid form of energy, or else it will cause a dangerous impact on the environment in the future. ”

A suggestion went to policy makers who need to fund research in diverting solar energy released by the sun to reduce dependence on fossil fuels which cause a threat to man’s existence, peace and stability.

“Fossil fuels were a key part of economic development in the past millennium. In the new millennium, we need to phase out their use. While it may be debatable how long we have to make this transition, we believe the correct answer is ‘the sooner the better."

Baltimore’s final addition that governments will be saving a lot of money by using solar energy is true. This is because solar energy is available in great abundance for as long as life exists on earth and all the technology needed to produce energy from the sun is available and well understood.