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CGH Celebrates 10 Years: Reflection and Renewed Commitment to Global Cancer Research and Control

, by Kalina Duncan, MPH, DrPH (c)

This year is already a memorable one for the global cancer community as NCI officially kicked off commemoration activities for the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act of 1971. The Act, among other things, granted broad authority to the NCI director to plan and develop a National Cancer Program, with a mandate to support cancer research and training in the US and abroad, including to: 

•    support research in the cancer field outside the United States by highly qualified foreign nationals which research can be expected to inure to the benefit of the American people; 

•    support collaborative research involving American and foreign participants; 

•    and support the training of American scientists abroad and foreign scientists in the United States. [Sec. 407 (b) (6)]

The National Cancer Act represented the US commitment to cancer research, cancer control, and cancer research training. This year further marks a significant milestone in that commitment – the 10th anniversary of the creation of the NCI Center for Global Health (CGH) which brought together many of NCI’s existing global cancer programs under one umbrella to support the NCI mission by advancing global cancer research, and by coordinating NCI engagement in global cancer control. 

Coincidently, this year also marks my 10th year of involvement with CGH. I joined CGH as a Presidential Management Fellow in 2011, following my graduate work in global public health and health systems. As a then new public servant, I was drawn to the mission of NCI and particularly interested in the challenge of addressing cancer control in settings with few resources and health systems that are challenged by competing health priorities such as what we are now experiencing with COVID-19. Global cancer control was a relatively new field in global health, and I was drawn to the opportunity to innovate and contribute to reducing the burden of cancer, like so many who work at NCI. 

Kalina Duncan, MPH, DrPH (c) presents at conference in Melbourne, Australia 2014

Kalina Duncan presents at the Pacific Cancer Control Leadership Forum in Melbourne, Australia 2014.

I remember the Center in its nascent days and the challenge of conceptualizing how to promote global cancer research and control in a crowded global health space. Of course, NCI has worked globally, long before the establishment of CGH, and NCI scientists with robust careers in global cancer research helped shape who we are today. Throughout the past decade, CGH has seen many changes, learned more about the global cancer landscape, and grown immensely. Today, CGH is focused on supporting impactful research and research training that leverages global collaboration and unique scientific opportunities, promoting science-based global cancer control, and prioritizing partnerships that are key to these endeavors. Over the past 10 years, we have built the foundation needed to address the opportunities in these critical areas for the next decade. 

James Alaro, NCI/CGH; Julie Torode, UICC, Anne Korir, KEMRI, Kalina Duncan, NCI/CGH pose at the 2019 AORTIC conference.

But we can’t and won’t do it alone. Strategic, productive, and valued partnerships allow CGH to develop programs responsive to global cancer control needs, and to encourage greater global engagement by key partners. At the heart of these networks are our amazing 71 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers, who are making significant contributions in global oncology. Every few years, we field the NCI Global Oncology Survey, to better understand who is working with international collaborators and where opportunities exist for advancing further scientific partnership. In a few days (March 10-11, 2021), CGH will host the 9th Annual Global Cancer Research Symposium. This meeting is one of the largest and longest-running annual scientific meetings dedicated to global cancer research and control and is convened in partnership with the network of NCI-Designated Cancer Centers and global cancer partners. This year we’ll welcome partners and participants from more than 40 countries to share emerging science from more than 100 abstract submissions, and discuss together how resilience and equity shape and define our priorities in cancer research. Please join us – we’re very excited for this event! Additionally, my team at CGH engages regularly with robust networks like the International Cancer Control Partnership and the International Cancer Research Partnership. These partnerships bring together leaders in cancer research and control and facilitate knowledge sharing and transparency to accelerate science-driven global cancer control.  Collaboration is a core value that underlies and drives all our work at CGH.

Kalina Duncan, MPH, DrPH (c) poses with sign "we will forge positive visibility in women" for International Women's Day 2021

Kalina Duncan, DrPH (c) poses with a #ChooseToChallenge selfie card in recognition of International Women's Day.

In addition to the commemoration of the National Cancer Act 50th, the Center for Global Health 10th, and my personal 10th NCI anniversary, on March 8th the world recognizes International Women’s Day, celebrating the social, scientific, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day features a call to action for gender parity. Throughout my time working in global cancer control, my mentors, colleagues, friends, and team have included many exceptional and inspirational women. Each of us has faced unique challenges along our research, public health, medical, and scientific journeys, challenging gender inequities in countries around the globe. In my time at NIH, I’ve seen the NIH Director, Dr. Collins, disassociate himself from “manels” and “manferences.” I am proud of the NCI scientists and administrators working so hard to improve equity at all levels of participation in cancer research and thrilled that CGH prioritizes racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic equity. When women lead and are safe, empowered, educated, and healthy, societies improve. 

I am honored to work at an institution so dedicated to improving all lives. I’m excited that in 2021, we’ve welcomed First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to both the NCI and the VCU Massey Cancer Center. How appropriate that as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, which cemented our nation’s commitment to cancer research, that this sentiment is being carried throughout our country’s highest levels of leadership. As we celebrate 10 years of the Center for Global Health at NCI, we are committed to international, collaborative science at CGH to ensure cancer research impacts all lives worldwide. 

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