Brussels, 02 Jul 2004
'It was as if I looked into a crystal ball, saw what was coming and prepared us for it. Europe was coming,' says Paul Kiekens, head of the Department of Textiles at Belgium's University of Ghent, of the research network that he has been building up over the last ten years.
The annual report from Dr Kiekens' department is a catalogue of international research projects. It includes projects funded under the EU's framework programmes, other EU programmes, NATO's 'science for peace' programme and the government of Flanders.
Dr Kiekens has been the driver of this collaboration, and has recently received congratulations from fellow Belgian and EU Research Commissioner, Philippe Busquin. 'I developed a network before the Commission was thinking about it,' he told CORDIS News.
Dr Kiekens is referring to AUTEX, the Association of Universities for Textiles, which is probably the highlight of his push for collaborative research. The network recently celebrated its tenth birthday, and has achieved 'tremendous things', according to Dr Kiekens. AUTEX now has more than 30 members, although the prime criterion for membership remains quality. Participants exchange students, discuss curricula and devise solutions to common problems. 'It is also a club where new ideas are born for textiles research,' says Dr Kiekens.
Things have changed a lot since the network was founded. In 1994, very few people had e-mail, and contact was limited to one or two face-to-face meetings per year, which Dr Kiekens believes 'wasn't enough to really establish something'. The Internet has now made regular contact possible.
Asked why he followed this visionary path back in the early 1990s, Dr Kiekens says that he realised that his department was relatively small, and that for the sake of its students and the future, they had to 'go to another level'. 'I realised around 1990 that we were missing many things,' he adds.
The focus of this initial drive for cross-border collaboration was Europe, which led to a loosening of ties with US institutions. Dr Kiekens is now trying to restore these contacts, and says that there is definitely interest in his department's activities in the US.
The projects in which Dr Kiekens' department is currently involved cover a plethora of topics, ranging from advanced textile engineering and assistance for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and testing laboratories in Central and Eastern Europe to weaving, dyeing, storing and retrieving information on textile patterns and biomaterials.
Dr Kiekens highlighted the CHITOMED (biomedical textiles from dibutyrylchitin and chitin) project, which he finds particularly interesting. The project brings together ten partners from universities and industry to develop a dressing that accelerates the healing of wounds. The consortium, led by a colleague of Dr Kiekens at the University of Ghent, has created a material from shrimp and crab shells that both prevents infection (a serious risk for burn victims or those with large wounds) and has an anti-inflammatory effect, he explained.
As the material is organic and therefore not toxic, testing has been relatively simple, and is currently taking place in Belgium and Poland. 'We're moving very fast,' said Dr Kiekens, when asked about the prospect of putting the dressing on the market, 'It should be available in two or three years.' As the main component of the dressing is waste from fisheries, the consortium is also confident that it can be manufactured at a reasonable cost.
Having been involved in EU research for such a long time, Dr Kiekens is well qualified to talk about the changes to the Commission's framework programmes for research. He claims that it is now more difficult to get funding, that the procedures have become more complicated and that the focus has moved too far in favour of short term or applied research. 'Ten years ago it was clearer. But this is not a criticism, just my experience,' says Dr Kiekens. He believes that an increase in bureaucracy has led to more uncertainty and to longer delays between the submission of a proposal and the launch of a project. He accepts, however, that many of these changes have been necessary because more people now wish to participate in the framework programmes. 'I have no solution to this,' he admits.
For further information on the University of Ghent's Department of Textiles, please visit: