Updated on 21 December 2012
Dr Kanyawim Kirtikara, executive director, National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC)
Dr Kanyawim Kirtikara is undoubtedly one-of-the-most important forces to recon within Thailand's biotechnology industry. Her present role as the executive director of BIOTEC allows her to work as a bridge between what scientists do and what the country needs.
Dr Kirtikara, who graduated from Chulalongkorn University with a BS in Genetics, enrolled at the University of Connecticut, US, to continue studies in her interest area of plant genetics. She obtained an MS in Genetics in 1987 and completed her PhD, also in Genetics, in 1993. Her PhD research focused on the alteration in protein accumulation and gene expression of the ascorbate-gluthione pathway in the tomato. Dr Kirtikara then began a postdoctoral research fellowship at Rutgers University in the Department of Plant Sciences, investigating the effect of oxidative stress. She received a second post-doctoral fellowship in 1995 at the Department of Medicine, University of Tennessee, by focusing on complex regulations of genes involved in prostaglandin biosynthesis.
"Then I came back to Thailand to work as a researcher at BIOTEC in 1998 (my first job). I helped set up the bioassay lab at the center for screening various bioactive compounds from natural products," said Dr Kirtikara, who has been with the institution for 14 years now. "That time you had only two choices here in Thailand. If you like teaching, you joined the university. If you wanted to focus on research, you joined institutes. BIOTEC has been a very good place," she added.
Dr Kirtikara became the director of BIOTEC central research unit in 2005 and deputy director of BIOTEC, in charge of capacity building, during the late 2007. As the executive director now, Dr Kirtikara manages two things: research directions for BIOTEC and scientists. "I have to work at the national level to understand what kind of research is needed for the country. Since we do not have that much manpower, we have to focus on certain areas and utilize resources judiciously. I also engage with scientists in what they are doing. It can be tough as we are different from universities, so our output is not publication. People expect that research should be tangible and public should benefit. So I have to keep the scientists motivated," she said, while explaining the challenge.
BIOTEC, which will celebrate its three decades of existence in September 2013, was established much before the NSTDA. In the initial 10 years, BIOTEC played the role of a funding agency. It sent people abroad for studies and also promoted and supported the country's universities to carry out research. In the last two decades, BIOTEC has also emerged as a research institution, and has been collaborating with companies and universities to do high-quality research.