National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
December 1, 2009 • Volume 6 / Number 23

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Special Issue: Cancer Research Training

NCI Trains Future International Research Leaders

Nearly 500 Visiting Fellows trained on the NCI campus at NIH in 2009, representing 59 different countries, most commonly China, India, Japan, South Korea, France, Italy, Israel, Germany, and Poland. Nearly 500 Visiting Fellows trained on the NCI campus at NIH in 2009, representing 59 different countries. Those with the greatest number, 4 or more, are represented here, but also included in the list are Visiting Fellows from Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Iceland, New Zealand, Philippines, Romania, Venezuela, Belgium, Bolivia, Colombia, Iran, Kenya, North Korea, Lebanon, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Niue, Norway, Peru, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Ukraine, and Uruguay. Click to Enlarge.

Since passage of the National Cancer Act of 1971, NCI has taken seriously its statutory mandate to support the training of foreign scientists in the United States. In FY 2008, the institute welcomed 926 visiting scientists from 84 countries who trained as fellows in NCI's laboratories and clinics or took intensive summer courses.

"Certainly, if you go to leading cancer centers around the world, it's not at all uncommon to find individuals there in leadership positions who have a history of having passed through NCI's labs and facilities," noted Dr. Joe Harford, director of NCI's Office of International Affairs (OIA). A good example is Chinese scientist Dr. Qimin Zhan, who trained at NCI, and recently co-chaired a U.S.-China conference to expand the two countries' cancer research collaborations.

China currently sends the most visiting scientists to NCI each year, followed closely by Japan, India, and South Korea, which make up roughly half of NCI's international trainees. European nations and Canada are also heavily represented. Many scientists from these industrialized countries are postdoctoral researchers, such as Dr. Zhan, who work under multi-year fellowships in NCI's intramural research centers.

In recent years, Dr. Harford and the OIA have been "trying proactively to increase the number of scientists from low- and middle-income countries (LMC)" who can benefit from NCI training programs. The Summer Curriculum in Cancer Prevention, which is supported and operated by the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program, has proven to be a good way to accomplish that goal. "The program started out as a U.S.-oriented initiative, but around 1998, we saw it as an opportunity to expand and train international scientists as well," he noted. Prevention and cancer control are also top priorities in the developing world, where treatment facilities are often insufficient or lacking entirely.

Currently, roughly half of enrollees in the Summer Curriculum are international students. OIA has promoted the program directly in the developing world and has also enlisted the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to recommend candidates through IAEA's PACT program. "We've had enrollees fairly well represented from all the major developing regions of the world, including Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa/Middle East, Latin America, and Eastern Europe," Dr. Harford noted.

NCI has conducted educational outreach as well, particularly in the area of training in population-based cancer registries. For example, through its involvement in the Middle East Cancer Consortium, NCI has been helping educate staff with the registries in Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Turkey.

OIA also works closely with the global cancer organization International Union Against Cancer (UICC) in its international fellowship program, which Dr. Harford oversees for UICC on a volunteer basis. OIA sponsors the International Cancer Technology Transfer Fellowships (ICRETT). "The ICRETT fellowship is only for 1 to 2 months and it is designed to aid researchers in remote locations who run into a specific barrier of some sort," he explained. "The researchers can apply at any point in the year for an ICRETT fellowship to go some place in the world where that specific technology can be transferred to them." UICC provides a stipend to the ICRETT fellows and covers their travel expenses.

Earlier this year, NCI joined the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI), largely funded by the Open Society Institute. "This is for people who have been working in palliative care but who lack leadership skills, such as team-building or strategic planning," Dr. Harford explained. Initially, 22 individuals from LMCs were chosen for the new program and will receive leadership training at the San Diego Hospice in California.

OIA has also provided some funding for a companion Web site of palliative care resources for LMCs, including the EPEC-O (Education in Palliative and End-of-Life Care for Oncology) curriculum, a comprehensive train-the-trainer program developed specifically for cancer care practitioners.

Dr. Qimin Zhan

Chinese scientist Dr. Qimin Zhan believes the 7 years he spent training at NCI’s laboratories from 1991 to1998 played a critical role in his successful scientific career. He subsequently returned to China and is now vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (CAMS) and the Peking Union Medical College.

As part of his research leadership role, Dr. Zhan recently chaired the 30th anniversary celebration of U.S.-China collaborations in cancer research in Beijing.

Dr. Zhan came to NCI as an NIH visiting scientist and worked in the laboratory of Dr. Albert Fornace, helping with pioneering work on the role of the tumor suppressor gene p53. He became a senior staff fellow leading his own laboratory during his final 2 years at NCI. Dr. Zhan left to join the NCI-designated cancer center at the University of Pittsburgh, where he received research grant funding from NCI.

Dr. Zhan returned permanently to China in 2004 to accept his post with CAMS. He is proud of his current role helping expand Chinese collaborations with NCI and said, “I try to send my special thanks back to NCI.”