New Awards for NCI’s Institutional Training Initiative: Strengthening Capacity in LMICs for Global Cancer Research
, by Sudha Sivaram, Dr.P.H., M.P.H.
In 2020, we launched a new global cancer research training initiative to strengthen institutional capacity in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) for global cancer research. Utilizing the D43 funding mechanism, this program sought applications from US institutions in partnership with LMIC institutions to build scientific expertise and leadership skills to conduct innovative global cancer research. We made the first set of awards in 2021 and have now issued a second group of four awards. These projects extend longstanding global research collaborations and share common goals of developing capacity relevant to the research priorities of the collaborating LMICs. They also aim to strengthen the mechanisms for cancer research administration and seek to develop regional linkages – such as with ministries of health, policymakers, and regional research institutions – to facilitate sustainable research training in these settings. The four new projects include the following:
- UC Davis Multi-Disciplinary Cancer Research Training Program to Advance Precision Cancer Prevention and Care in Latin America
University of California, Davis; University of California, San Francisco; Ayudas Diagnosticas Sura, Bogota, Colombia; Instituto Nacional de Cancerlogia, Ibaque, Colombia; Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, Peru
This training program seeks to provide a strong foundation for cancer genomics and precision medicine research in Latin America. The project team will build on their extensive expertise on Latin American population demography, cancer epidemiology and genetics, NIH-funded cancer studies in Latino populations, and a strong track record of research collaboration and training with Colombian and Peruvian researchers. The goals of the training program are to implement curricula that complement and address gaps in local training programs; provide mentorship for research project development relevant to the region; train in the development of research resources such as ethics training, biobanking best practices, and cloud-based bioinformatics; and train basic and clinical research scientists. Training will include doctoral level and post-doctoral-level mentored education and research in both Peru and Colombia.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, Nigeria
The team will implement the Nigerian Cancer Research Training (NCAT) program – with the goal of increasing capacity for the development, implementation, and dissemination of evidence-based interventions that will impact public health policy, as well as clinical practice, care, and treatment for cancer patients. The program will address two distinct needs for cancer research training in Nigeria: a training program for clinical faculty (primarily physicians and nurses) that will not interfere with clinical/research duties, and a training program to bolster the capacity of full-time PhD-level researchers in the disciplines of cancer epidemiology, behavioral sciences, and biostatistics. A combination of training strategies including coursework, mentored research in ongoing breast and colorectal cancer studies, virtual learning, mentorship, and collaboration will be used in the training. The program will also develop courses and training in research administration.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle and Uganda Cancer Institute, Kampala, Uganda
This project was developed to address the under-representation of African genomes and tumors as well as African scientists in cancer genomics studies. Noting that this is, in part, due to the lack of genomic research infrastructure and limited number of genomics professionals in Africa, the collaborators in this project will support Ugandan and East African scientists to complete master's and doctoral degrees in Bioinformatics with a focus on cancer genomics and genomics data science. This training will help develop the capacity to generate cancer genomic data that will directly benefit African cancer patients and will accelerate the development of Africa-based cancer genomics expertise.
Vanderbilt University, Nashville; University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia
In this program, Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and the University of Zambia (UNZA) are expanding their longstanding research training partnership to establish a new cancer epidemiology training program, the Vanderbilt-Zambia Cancer Research Training Program (VZCARE). The overall goal of VZCARE is to develop a cadre of researchers and educators equipped with modern knowledge and expertise to lead cancer epidemiology research and training in Zambia, to encourage US-based researchers to engage in cancer research in LMICs, and to ensure long-term program impacts and sustainability. Specifically, this program will train a cadre of researchers and educators (trainers) to conduct multidisciplinary cancer epidemiology research and build training capacity in Zambia. There will also be short-term faculty research exchanges between the institutions as well workshops in Zambia that support the UNZA Ph.D. program. Finally, mentored research projects for early career scientists will be implemented during the training of doctoral students in Zambia as well as postdoctoral scholars in Zambia and the US.
With the eight projects funded in 2021-2022, we have established NCI’s first dedicated cohort of institutional training grants for global cancer research in LMICs. We aim to develop a sustainable community of practice of researchers and mentors that will foster learning and collaboration to advance cancer science in LMICs.
As I write this, I hark back to my own doctoral dissertation days. As a student from India completing my doctoral program in the US, my dissertation research work in rural India was supported, in part, by a D43 grant to my institution. Some lessons--such as crafting specific aims, working with local institutional review boards (in my case setting one up!), communicating with mentors for timely review, and writing tips (Oxford comma or not, long sentences can be tiring)--have shaped my professional work. Most importantly, the community and colleagues I worked with taught me about important local issues and opportunities and offered insights into the conduct of research that could have a real local impact. The friendships I formed are ones I will always cherish. I look forward to our new grantees supporting similar training and career development experiences for others and helping us achieve our NCI commitment to support greater diversity in the cancer research workforce!