Before matriculating at Harvard Medical School in 2001, Nina S. Dudnik worked at a lab in the Ivory Coast. And what she didn’t see there became the start of a now seven-year journey to right the disparity between research in the West and in developing countries.
“They were unbelievably limited in terms of resources,” Dudnik said of the researchers in the war-torn African nation. Starting at Harvard Medical School only reinforced how wide the gulf was between a lab in Cambridge and one in Cote D’Ivoire.
The next year, Dudnik launched Seeding Labs, an organization dedicated to recycling unneeded scientific equipment to provide scientists in the developing world with basic tools for research.
The endeavor has since grown into an independent non-profit with student chapters at four universities, in addition to Harvard, and plans to expand to include biotechnology companies in the Boston area.
Dudnik said she hopes the resources her organization provides will allow scientists traditionally wanting for equipment to focus on local problems often overlooked by western researchers.
“Scientists in the developing world are best positioned to work on problems that affect their communities but do not have the resources to do it properly, so a lot of these problems go unstudied,” said Dudnik.
In recent months, the Harvard College chapter has been soliciting donations for a project to overhaul the research facilities at Kenyatta University in Kenya—one of the poorest nations on the planet. According to Michael F. Qian ’11, co-president of the Harvard Seeding Labs chapter, the school hopes to become a major research facility but currently lacks the equipment to compete with other institutions of higher education.
Qian said he and other student volunteers worked for two months to collect equipment that is now in transit to Kenya.
So far, the roughly 20-person chapter has focused on coordinating donations for research centers like the fledgling one at Kenyatta, but Dudnik said the organization—which also has chapters at Yale Medical School, Boston University, Mount Sinai Medical School, and Albert Einstein College—is expanding to help scientists in the developing world achieve parity in other ways as well.
“Sending equipment is the majority of what we done now, but we also have a collaborative online platform for scientists around the world to talk to each other, and we are starting training exchange programs,” Dudnik said. “And then the sky is the limit.”