César Zambrano

A very sincere thanks to the executive director and to the Red CEDIA team, they do an extraordinary job. I hope we can continue working together for several more years.

César Zambrano, dean of the Faculty of Sciences and Engineering, professor of chemistry at the San Francisco University of Quito, (USFQ in Spanish).

In 2016 he was connected for the second time with the CEPRA contest. The first one in which he participated was during the eighth invite, where the first phase of the current project was developed.

What is the current project about?

The project is called The Study and Design of Drugs through Computational Methods. During the first phase we conducted a series of workshops to train people in the fundamental theoretical and practical computing principles that allow studies on drug design. The second phase studies the biological activity and the structural-activity relationship of the molecules that are studied in the laboratory. Through this study, the results are extrapolated to molecules that we did not use in the experiment, but can be postulated in the future. They have an impact on much more successful results.

How could these results be applied?

If we have biological activity in a group of molecules, we can identify that biological activity and find it interesting (whether it turns out to be antibacterial or antiparasitic). Anyone with access to the results can carry out future experiments on animals or on human cells. In the event that the molecules in question do not yield the expected results, the extrapolation of the studies will help to design molecules that do have important biological activity and that are not toxic in animals.

What challenges have you encountered in the project?

The access to instruments, supplies and reagents is extremely complicated, because special permits are required when the control bodies are unknown or we are required to fill out forms for tax exemption documents. In addition, since there is no direct method for bringing the supplies when ordering them from the parent company, they require 100% of the advance payment (which guarantees that the item arrives in the country after ninety days). All together, these inconveniences can add up to delays of one hundred and eighty days. It is very difficult to plan six months in advance.

What benefits of Red CEDIA have been used in this project?

We have been very fortunate to be favored by the CEDIA invites. We have been able to capture important attention from the academic community in Ecuador. We are in contact with several researchers who carry out similar studies, and who use the services of CEDIA to train and connect, specifically the CECIRA contest with which they can improve their work. We were favored with the competitive funds that allowed us to buy important equipment and necessary supplies. Additionally, and this is part of what I call the CEDIA commitment, we have an email assigned by CEDIA that serves to communicate among the project's members. Last year we were working on the HTML files to create a web portal within the CEDIA server, but unfortunately we had a change of personnel partway into the process.

What do you think about the existence of institutions such as Red CEDIA, which support research in the country?

First of all, I would like to congratulate CEDIA, especially Dr. Carvallo, because I believe they perform a very valuable service for the Ecuadorian scientific community. Currently, Red CEDIA is the only avenue to obtain funds for the promotion of science without the government´s intervention and without restrictions for private universities. From this point of view, CEDIA gives a service that is very appreciated by its users and I think it has been invaluable for the last ten years.

What is the current status of Ecuadorian research?

Due to funding limitations, I see that researchers are forming collaborative groups. Often, there are no agreements in between them, which is essential to justify funding and involve researchers who are more concerned with the scientific production of the country. (...) The researcher seeks to work for the generation of joint knowledge, not to justify the presence of an agreement. I am not saying that they are not important, but at an international level, many institutions seek to establish the relationship and collaboration between peers, which once established, gives way to the signing of agreements.

What is necessary to improve Ecuadorian research?

What should be done is to let the researchers have freedom, not to restrict access to public funds to private universities. Free access to funds should be allowed as CEDIA distributes its funds, that is, after submitting projects the money is divided among researchers from several universities that point to the same project. I think this works great. It would be very beneficial for Ecuador.

How do you imagine the future of research within Ecuador?

The Organic Law of Higher Education obliges the institutions to reserve funding for research, which I consider a positive decision. However, it is considered that this financing is often directly proportional to the result. So, the distribution of the government´s money for research is not well structured, I think it can be improved with adequate advice.

I can see the number of publications per institution improving in the future, but it is necessary to change the ideological vision towards research. Ecuador needs a national laboratory where all institutions have 24/7 access and can perform analyzes, for example DNA, obtaining timely results and having efficient use of all instruments. Despite the improvement in research, current mechanisms harm the community by forcing them to use private laboratories, which wastes resources and goes against the idea of joint work.

Specifically, there is the example of electron microscopes. In Quito there are four that do not work full time. I would say that there should be only one that is used at its maximum capacity and the saved money should be invested in other instruments. We have to improve that type of relationship, otherwise we will continue to be a developing country.

What advice would you give to young researchers who want to dedicate their lives to this activity?

They need to be passionate, passionate about discovering the unknown. Have a lot of imagination, and should want to make a long-term contribution to society.

I give the scientists a warning: they are not going to become millionaires. If you think that this will get you the car of the year, better dedicate yourself to another activity. Science gives us the appreciation from an academic community, including travels and prizes. It is better to start as soon as possible, when they find an adequate opportunity. I have had sixth semester students who are already looking for possibilities to prepare themselves for postgraduate studies and who will surely continue doing research.

Is there something you would like to add to this interview?

A very sincere thanks to the executive director and to the Red CEDIA team, they do an extraordinary job. I hope we can continue working together for several more years.