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Vanderbilt scientists to lead chronic disease research initiative in Vietnam

Oct. 6, 2016, 9:17 AM

Scientists in the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center (VEC) and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) have been awarded a grant to plan and develop a Regional Center of Research Excellence in non-communicable diseases in Vietnam.

Xiao Ou Shu, M.D., Ph.D., MPH
Xiao Ou Shu, M.D., Ph.D., MPH

Xiao Ou Shu, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, associate director for Global Health and co-leader of the Cancer Epidemiology Research Program at VICC, and Thuan Van Tran, M.D., director of the National Institute for Cancer Control in Vietnam, will serve as co-principal investigators for the project.

The National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Center for Global Health is funding the P20 grant awards to support global collaborations to plan and design Regional Centers of Research Excellence (RCREs) for non-communicable diseases (NCD), including cancer, in low-and middle-income countries or regions.

NCDs, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, account for more than 72 percent of premature deaths globally, and low- and middle-income countries carry a disproportionate burden of those diseases. The NCI is funding Planning Grants for RCREs to support partnerships between high-income countries and less affluent countries and to facilitate regional hubs to coordinate basic, translational, clinical and population science research in low-and middle-income countries.

“I am pleased that we have been selected to help lead this important initiative to create a foundation of health care research excellence in Vietnam,” said Shu, an Ingram Professor of Cancer Research. “Vanderbilt is well-regarded for our record of excellence in population-based science, research training and program building. We also have long-standing collaborations with leading NCD investigators in the Asia region.”

Shu also said she and her Vanderbilt colleagues are looking forward to forging closer ties with Vietnam’s National Institute for Cancer Control, the leader in cancer care and control in that country.

According to Shu and Van Tran, rapid economic growth, industrialization and widespread adoption of a Western lifestyle in Vietnam have been accompanied by an emerging epidemic of NCDs. NCD research in that country, however, is limited and mainly restricted to prevalence assessment and risk factor surveillance.

Currently, there is no population-based epidemiological research program for cancer, diabetes or other NCDs in Vietnam due to the lack of a population-based cancer registry, a dearth of well-trained investigators and the absence of proper research support infrastructure.

To address these challenges, the investigators will establish a multi-institutional U.S.-Vietnam-China partnership to create a self-sustaining, high-impact NCD research and training center in Vietnam and to establish a large population-based cohort study for NCD research there.

“Our regional partner, the Shanghai Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in China, will provide expertise in building non-communicable disease research and control programs that are most relevant to Vietnam. Our other partners, Hanoi Medical University and Hanoi School of Public Health, are major players in prevention research in Vietnam,” Shu said.

Hung N. Luu, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the University of South Florida and a former post-doctoral fellow of the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center, will assist in coordinating the collaborative effort.

After assessing needs and capacity, the group will conduct in-country training workshops. The program will support site visits to the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center and Shanghai CDCP, as well as short-term training for a Vietnam scholar at these institutes.

They also plan to conduct a case-control study for breast cancer and a community survey for type 2 diabetes, two NCDs of particular public health concern in Vietnam, and collect biospecimens that will lay a foundation for future multi-disciplinary research.

Through these activities, the group will establish the Survey Research Support Core, the Biospecimen Processing and Biorepository Core and the Bioinformatics and Informatics Core, the infrastructure essential to epidemiology research, and develop an array of study instruments and protocols for future studies in Vietnam.

They also plan to establish a longer-term research and training program for Vietnam that is relevant for its neighboring countries.

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