Global Health

May 21, 2024

NIH grant supports effort to build expertise in genetic epidemiology research in Vietnam

V2-GENE, the Vanderbilt-Vietnam Genetic Epidemiology Training Program, will develop a team of researchers and educators to lead genetic epidemiology research of noncommunicable diseases across the lifespan in Vietnam.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center investigators have received a five-year, $1.25 million grant from the Fogarty International Center, part of the National Institutes of Health, to build expertise in genetic epidemiology research in Vietnam.

The Vanderbilt-Vietnam Genetic Epidemiology Training Program (V2-GENE) will join efforts across Vanderbilt University, Hanoi Medical University (HMU), and Vietnam National Cancer Institute (VNCI) to train scholars in the genetic epidemiology of noncommunicable diseases (NCD), such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes — the leading cause of death globally.

Xiao-Ou Shu, MD, PhD, MPH

“It is well known that host susceptibility, including genetics and microbiome and their interaction with a wide variety of lifestyle and environmental exposures throughout life, play a critical role in the development and progression of NCD,” said Xiao-Ou Shu, MD, PhD, MPH, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and professor of Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology at VUMC, and a co-principal investigator of the new grant. “While the fields of molecular and genetic epidemiology are quickly capitalizing on new knowledge and technology, there is a serious shortage of genetic epidemiologists with training in related subject areas, particularly among low- and middle-income countries like Vietnam.”

There are currently no existing training programs in genetic epidemiology in Vietnam, Shu said.

The V2-GENE program will build on existing partnerships. Since 2016, investigators at HMU, VNCI, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center have been working to build research capacity in cancer epidemiology in Vietnam, with support from the National Cancer Institute.

“This newly funded grant will allow for the growth and expansion of the existing training programs in Vietnam in epidemiology, public health and clinical trials to incorporate research and training in genetic epidemiology for future etiological and clinical research,” said Digna Velez Edwards, PhD, MS, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at VUMC and the contact-principal investigator of the grant.

Digna Velez Edwards, PhD

“Our overall goal of the program is to develop a team of researchers and educators prepared with the necessary training and expertise to lead genetic epidemiology research of NCD across the lifespan in Vietnam and to enhance engagement of U.S.-based researchers in low- and middle-income countries.”

The V2-GENE program will:

  • Train leaders and trainers in genetic epidemiology by hosting visiting faculty members from HMU and VNCI for mentorship at VUMC.
  • Train scientists and future leaders with combined U.S.- and Vietnam-based coursework and mentored research activities for PhD, MPH and postdoctoral trainees.
  • Implement activities to ensure long-term impact by following up with alumni and fostering collaborations.

“Our approach of training the trainers and building training infrastructure within Vietnam will provide sustainability for the program,” Shu said. “Training and conducting research globally are integral to the improvement of human health. We hope partnerships like this will lead to new opportunities to collaborate and partner on new research within Vietnam.”

The multi-investigator team leading V2-GENE includes Velez Edwards, a human geneticist; Shu, who is also associate director of Global Health and co-leader of the cancer epidemiology program at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center; Huong Thi Thanh Tran, MD, PhD, associate professor and chair of the Department of Ethics and Medical Psychology at HMU and director of VNCI; and Giang Minh Le, MD, PhD, associate professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and the Graduate Training Management Department at HMU.