UChicago Center for Global Health Reporting from Durban, South Africa
There was an unmistakable buzz of inspired optimism at the 9th International Cancer Conference of the African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), held November 21 to 24, 2013. Over 800 delegates from 69 countries, including 41 African nations, convened in Durban, South Africa to present research, attend workshops, hear from experts, and form new collaborations. Scientists and healthcare professionals from all oncology-related disciplines were joined by leaders of the international cancer community—professional societies, governmental and non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups, and industry—to work toward their common goal of lessening the suffering of cancer patients in Africa.
The UChicago Center for Global Health delegation at the African Cancer Leaders Institute (ACLI) registration desk. From left: Dominique Sighoko, Rebecca DeBoer, Funmi Olopade, Priya Raja.
The challenges posed by the increasing burden of cancer in Africa are many and well known to this crowd. Indeed, most presentations at AORTIC began with a reminder of the jarring GLOBOCAN statistics that quantify this growing epidemic, followed by a familiar list of obstacles to cancer control and treatment in Africa. However, people quickly tired of this broken record and instead turned eagerly toward the expansive discussion of opportunities, gleaning hope from the many reports of progress and motivation from the call to set the bar high for cancer patients in Africa and “think outside the box” until solutions are achieved.
Dr. Funmi Olopade (center) with trainees Priya Raja (left) and Rebecca DeBoer (right) at the AORTIC booth in the exhibitor hall.
Dr. Bello A. Mohammed from Abuja, Nigeria shows off his AORTIC necktie.
The UChicago Center for Global Health (CGH) sent a contingent from across campus to share their work at AORTIC, led by Dr. Funmi Olopade, medical oncologist and Director of the CGH. Priya Raja, a recent graduate of the College, presented her research on overcoming barriers to cervical cancer screening in South Africa, which was supported by a grant from the Human Rights Program and received the Distinguished Award for Undergraduate Research in Africa. Dominique Sighoko, a post-doctoral cancer epidemiologist at the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics and Global Health, presented her work on ethnic and geographic variation in the burden of breast and uterine cancer. Rebecca DeBoer, a resident in internal medicine at the University of Chicago, co-wrote a chapter on clinical trials for the World Health Organization (WHO) Handbook for Cancer Research in Africa, which made its debut at AORTIC. At the helm, Dr. Olopade gave several spirited presentations on state-of-the-art treatment and research in breast cancer, encouraging the audience to advocate for innovative approaches at their home institutions.
Dr. Funmi Olopade strategizes with a group of current and future African cancer leaders at an impromptu gathering during AORTIC.
Researchers Abayomi Odetunde (left) and Imaria Anetor (right) from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria present “Identifying Genomic Architecture of Breast Cancer in Nigerian Woman,” a study conducted in collaboration with the UChicago Center for Global Health.
In addition, the African Cancer Leaders Institute (ACLI) was inaugurated at AORTIC with support from the UChicago Center for Global Health. Twelve applicants from a range of countries and specialties were selected to participate in ACLI, a program designed to develop the next generation of leaders in cancer research, advocacy, education, policy, and clinical practice in Africa. ACLI took place as a “meeting within a meeting” throughout the conference. Participants gave presentations on their areas of interest and career goals, attended sessions focused on leadership, policy, and international collaboration, and met individually with mentors. Now officially launched, the ACLI will continue to foster leadership and professional development through ongoing workshops, satellite meetings, and exchanges.
Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society and UChicago alum (center left), and Dr. Funmi Olopade (center right) with several trainees.
The ACLI is one of many examples of an emphasis on “the way forward” at AORTIC this year. Current and especially future leaders underscored the importance of supplementing public health-oriented measures with an interventional approach, such that prevention and screening campaigns are linked to adequate treatment, and observational studies are accompanied by clinical trials. Coordination among public and private partners, international collaborators, and advocacy groups is critical, and swung into high gear at AORTIC. Indeed, all of the networking culminated at the Gala Dinner, where alliances were sealed in the conga line on the dance floor!
Written by Rebecca DeBoer, MD
November 30, 2013