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April 13, 2004 • Volume 1 / Number 15 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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Special ReportSpecial Report

International Fellowship Program Advancing Science and Extending Good Will

In 1959, Dr. Mieczyslaw "Ray" Chorazy came to the United States from Poland on a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to conduct research at the University of Wisconsin on DNA uptake by eukaryotic cells. He returned to the states a little more than a year later to do research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on leukemic chromosomes under another Rockefeller Foundation fellowship that lasted 15 months. Other work in the United States followed, including a four-year stint in the early 1990s, during which he was involved in research at NCI on lung cancer genetics for three months each year."

I regard my several research visits to the states as the most enjoyable and fruitful time of my life," says Dr. Chorazy, former head of the Tumor Biology Department at the Centre of Oncology, Maria Sklodowska-Curie Memorial Institute, in Gliwice, Poland.

The opportunities presented by these fellowships, and the assistance Dr. Chorazy's U.S. colleagues have offered him and his colleagues over the years, spurred him to pursue an ambitious project that is having tremendous results. With the partial support of the NCI Office of International Affairs (OIA), the medical center in Gliwice now offers its own small fellowship program. The program is geared toward young cancer researchers from the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania - all of which have seen the kind of tumult Poland experienced throughout much of the 1970s and 80s, when it was ruled by a communist regime and experienced significant economic and social upheaval."

We in Poland survived the hardest economic times, thanks to continued help from our Western colleagues," he says. Help from Western research communities came in various forms, including reagents and biomaterials, subscriptions to scientific journals, and supplies and replacement parts for laboratory equipment. He and his colleagues also were often invited to attend international meetings and conferences and were charged lower registration fees - or not charged at all.

"The U.S. system of grants and fellowships has been so helpful and friendly," Dr. Chorazy adds. "In a sense, I see our fellowship program as a way to repay the moral debt that we owe to our friends in the West who helped us at the time of darkness and depression."

Cancer researchers in the Gliwice program include: (sitting, left to right): Nadzeya Rabacon, Belarus; Natallia Vydra, Belarus; (standing): Valeria Piddubnyak, Ukraine; Olgha Dudaladava, Belarus; Rasa Vaitiekunaite, Lithuania; Maria Boyko, Ukraine.The program was initially launched in the early 1990s with funds from several Polish sources and the European Association for Cancer Research. Although NCI has a long-standing relationship with Poland's Institute of Oncology, dating back to the 1970s, funding for the program in Gliwice grew out of the OIA's Short-Term Scientist Exchange Program, which generally involves support for researchers from less-developed countries to come and work in U.S. laboratories for six months or less.

In 1999, former OIA director Dr. Federico Welsch worked with Dr. Chorazy and his colleagues to establish fellowship support for two researchers per year. In 2003, two additional fellowships were added. Operating the program out of Gliwice - which is in the south of Poland, near the borders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia - allows researchers who most likely would not have had the opportunity for fellowships in the United States or other countries (because of cost and other logistical issues) to gain important experiences, explains OIA international programs officer Dr. James McKearney.

The fellowship program in Gliwice fits well into OIA's goal of helping developing countries build their capacity for research, says OIA Director Dr. Joe Harford.

"The cancer burden is growing in the developing world and, even today, approximately 90 percent of cancer cases occur outside the United States," said Dr. Harford. "Human capacity is lacking in many parts of the world, so training scientists is a key component of the globalization of cancer research."

The fellowship program "has raised unprecedented interest among our Eastern neighbors," Dr. Chorazy says. "I have been receiving constant requests both for short- and long-term fellowships from researchers in the Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Slovakia, and other countries."

The U.S.-funded fellowships have some advantages over those funded by the European Union (EU), Dr. Chorazy explains, because the latter require having to navigate through significant amounts of bureaucracy and red tape and often don't involve much person-to-person interaction between EU administrators and prospective candidates.

From the early 1990s to the present, approximately 20 fellows have participated in short-term (up to 3 months) and long-term (up to 3 years) fellowships in Gliwice. Two Ukrainian fellows recently received their Ph.D. degrees, and a fellow from Belarus will defend her Ph.D. dissertation in the near future. There are four fellows in Gliwice for 2004, two from Belarus and one each from the Ukraine and Lithuania."

We are lucky to have these young researchers with us. They are well-trained, very industrious, and manually gifted scientists," Dr. Chorazy says. "The researchers at the Centre of Oncology in Gliwice and our visiting fellows are very much indebted to NCI-OIA for the help and assistance they have provided. In this more and more complex world, such friendly human relations are the most heartwarming values."