Blossom Damania, PhD, and Dirk Dittmer, PhD, both have lived all over the world, where they saw firsthand the global burden of cancer. Both are professors of microbiology and immunology in the UNC school of Medicine and members of UNC Lineberger.
“We cannot close our eyes to the impact of cancer globally,” says Dr. Damania, director of the UNC Lineberger Global Oncology Program. The program will work broadly across several disciplines at UNC-Chapel Hill to build research and clinical partnerships in Brazil, Malawi, Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, India and China.
Dr. Dittmer, program resources director, explains, “Many of our colleagues at UNC Lineberger, the UNC School of Medicine, and other UNC schools and departments already volunteer overseas and are already engaged in research individually with specific colleagues. The goal of the program is to help them take that informal relationship and make it longer lasting. Global cancer research works because of individual relationships.”
Dr. Damania says, “The Global Oncology Program takes existing programs and build off them to offer patients additional options and to advance research, screening and treatment.” She cites the cervical cancer screening program underway in Zambia with Dr. Groesbeck Parham, a UNC obstetrics and gynecology professor andDr. Satish Gopal, an assistant professor of medicine with clinical experience in infectious diseases and oncology, who has just moved with his family to Malawi to develop further cancer program efforts there.
One of the challenges they face is time zones. “Skype and email help tremendously,” says Dr. Damania, “but with our colleagues in India, our calls with them have to be on the weekends since their clinics during the week are so busy. You just have to find ways to make it work.”
Dr. Dittmer explains, “We’re conducting clinical studies suggested and funded by the National Cancer Institute. We’re now at a point where we want to find out what are the most important clinical research questions our partners have.”
Dr. Damania says, “What we learn globally will help us locally. The more we learn about cancer, the more important it is for researchers to work together in diverse populations around the globe to find solutions.”