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VIGH, VICC establish cancer research program in Zambia

Jul. 21, 2022, 9:03 AM


by Kristin Centers

Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Zambia (UNZA) are partnering on a program to develop a cadre of researchers and educators to lead cancer epidemiology research and training in Zambia and to encourage U.S.-based researchers to engage in cancer research in low- and middle-income countries.

In partnership with UNZA and the Zambia Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDH), the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health (VIGH), the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center, and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) received $1.3 million for a five-year training grant funded by the National Cancer Institute to support cancer epidemiology research in Zambia, called Vanderbilt-Zambia Cancer Research Training Program (VZCARE).

Zambia’s National Cancer Control Strategic plan (2016-2021) lists cancer as one of the four major non-communicable diseases causing disability and premature deaths. By 2040, the burden of cancer in Zambia is expected to increase by 122%. Except for HIV-related malignancies – primarily cervical and Kaposi sarcoma – that have benefited from HIV/AIDS funding, there has been very little investment in Zambian cancer research in general and cancer epidemiology in particular.

To develop effective prevention and treatment programs, well-designed studies are urgently needed to identify risk and prognostic factors for cancers, particularly those related to westernization, and for individuals living with HIV.

At this time, however, such investigations in Zambia are challenging to implement due to a lack of well-trained investigators experienced in conducting large-scale epidemiologic studies using state-of-the-art methodologies and analysis techniques. Zambia has no cancer epidemiology-specific research training programs to address this workforce gap and tackle the country’s growing cancer burden.

“VZCARE will be instrumental in fostering high quality cancer research, by building a cadre of Zambian investigators who will certainly be influential in global health for many years to come,” said Violet Kayamba, PhD, MBChB, senior lecturer, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Zambia School of Medicine, who is one of the leaders of VZCARE.

VZCARE will be led by VUMC’s Xiao Ou Shu, MD, PhD, MPH, associate director for Global Health and co-leader of the Cancer Epidemiology Research Program at VICC, and Douglas Heimburger, MD, MS,  professor of Medicine and core faculty at the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, as well as Wilbroad Mutale, PhD, MBChB, assistant dean for Research in the UNZA School of Public Health, lecturer in UNZA’s School of Public Health and Medicine and Violet Kayamba, PhD, MBChB, senior lecturer, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Zambia School of Medicine, who is one of the leaders of VZCARE.

“We look forward to working with our Zambian colleagues to build cancer epidemiological research capacity in Zambia. We believe that the VZCARE will have a long-lasting impact on cancer research and prevention in Zambia,” said Shu.

VZCARE builds on the successful UNZA-Vanderbilt HIV Research Training Partnership, which has been in operation for more than 20 years, and on the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center’s global cancer epidemiology expertise, resources, and research training in LMICs.

“VZCARE represents an outstanding extension of the long and very productive research training partnership between Vanderbilt and UNZA,” said Heimburger. “The impressive track record of Zambian alumni of our training programs led NIH reviewers to give our application a very favorable score. We look for VZCARE to build local expertise and provide evidence to enable Zambia’s health system to stem the expected rise in the country’s cancer burden.”

VZCARE is supported by the NIH-National Cancer Institute D43CA270474.

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