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Argentina Consulate Celebrates Research Collaboration with Sylvester and CFAR

The Consul General of Argentina in Miami came to the medical campus last week to pay tribute to the consortium of researchers at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, the University of Miami Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) and institutions in Argentina that was awarded a prestigious National Cancer Institute U54 grant to study AIDS-related malignancies while developing the careers of junior researchers in Argentina.

From left, Enrique A. Mesri, Ph.D., Consul General Marcelo Martin Giusto, Edward Abraham, M.D., and Stephen D. Nimer, M.D.

Many of those junior researchers were present as Consul General Marcelo Martin Giusto praised the consortium and expressed gratitude for the leadership of Enrique A. Mesri, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology and principal investigator of the consortium.

“This cooperation among institutions is a remarkable example,” Giusto said. “I am really very proud to be with you and to highlight its importance, recognize the chief actors and give it the spotlight it deserves so it can be the inspiration for future projects and more support to education and training of young researchers.”

All of the institutions involved in the project “contribute to a whole that is bigger than its pieces,” he said.

An emotional Mesri thanked his colleagues and friends for their vision and commitment, which allowed him to “give back to my country, my dear Argentina” through the U54 grant, which seeks to support interdisciplinary research on HIV-associated malignancies in low- and middle-income countries. Two populations in Argentina are at high risk for Kaposi sarcoma and virally induced cancers: Among men who have sex with men, the HIV infection rate is 12 percent, and among transgender women, HIV prevalence climbs to 35 percent.

Meeting with the visiting investigators earlier in the day, Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., talked about the power of the grant and his hopes that the collaboration will continue well into the future.

“My goal for our cancer center is to do extraordinarily meaningful research that has an impact on people’s lives, that changes the way we think about diseases like cancer and changes the way we treat cancer. … I’m hoping that we will continue to do great science together.”

Nimer was among the leaders honored by Giusto at the January 18th evening ceremony. Others included Edward Abraham, M.D., executive vice president for health affairs, CEO of UHealth, and dean of the Miller School of Medicine; Maria de Lourdes Dieck-Assad, UM’s vice president for hemispheric and global affairs; Carl I. Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., MSPH, executive dean for research; Savita Pahwa, M.D., director of the Miami Center for AIDS Research; and Bonnie Blomberg, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology, representing her department.

The visiting U54 researchers were also honored, and participated in a mentoring workshop and scientific colloquium earlier in the week. Maria Virginia Ponzinibbio, Ph.D., of the Institute of Physiology, Molecular Biology and Neurosciences, expressed her gratitude for this “huge opportunity” to connect with people in another country. “I like to say that I will never be tall, but at least I will grow up as a scientist,” she said.

The UM U54 researchers recognized during the ceremony included Kerry Burnstein, Ph.D., professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology, who will lead the career development core of the consortium. Juan C. Ramos, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine in hematology and oncology, and Isabella Rosa-Cunha, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, are working on a project looking at molecular, viral and genetic epidemiology of virally induced AIDS-defining cancers affecting the population in Argentina with the highest risk for HIV infection.

The consul general also honored Sion Williams, Ph.D., research assistant professor of neurology and co-director of the Oncogenomics Core Facility at Sylvester, who is PI of the oncogenomics and bioinformatics core, which will leverage and enhance the scientific and clinical capacity of the network, and U54 scholar Julian Naipauer, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow in the Mesri laboratory.

Gilberto de Lima Lopes, Jr., M.D., M.B.A., Sylvester’s medical director for international programs and associate director for global oncology, talked to the young researchers about his work to build a global oncology program, and the importance of studying disparities, such as the fact that breast cancer strikes women in Latin America at a much earlier age than in the U.S.  “Now it’s time to get to work,” Lopes told the visitors.

“I’m very very happy that we are sharing this success,” Mesri said in his closing remarks. “A year ago, this was just a wish. We realized that because we were where we were, and because we have these phenomenal connections with Argentina, we could wish big.

“When you wish upon the type of institutions that are here, like Sylvester, like the CFAR, like the Miller School of Medicine, and you are able to recruit and make a part of that dream extremely hard-working and talented researchers, suddenly the wish has come true,” he said. “Today we are starting the process. In five years we need to see a new reality, the career of our scholars in Argentina and the phenomenal research collaboration that we are building together.”

The researchers from Argentina who were honored included Omar Sued, M.D., Ph.D., U54 project leader and clinical research director of Fundacion Huesped; Martin Abba, Ph.D., University of La Plata, co-leader of the bioinformatics and oncogenomics core and U54 scholars; Ana Raimondi, Ph.D., of the Institute of Physiology, Molecular Biology and Neurosciences; Valeria Fink, M.D., of Fundacion Huesped; Ezequiel Lacunza, Ph.D., of the University of La Plata; and Diego Çroci, Ph.D., and Juan Pablo Cerliani, Ph.D., of the Institute of Biology and Experimental Medicine.

Argentina consortium leaders not present at the event were also honored, including Pedro Cahn, M.D., Ph.D., U54 co-PI and director of Fundacion Huesped, and Gabriel Rabinovich, Ph.D., U54 project leader and professor at the University of Buenos Aires and the Institute for Biology and Experimental Medicine.
Omar A. Coso, Ph.D., of the University of Buenos Aires and the Institute of Physiology, Molecular Biology and Neurosciences, a U54 consortium co-PI and project leader, talked about the fundamental nature of research.

“I’m a professor, and what I do is ask questions, and I try to lead people in the search for answers,” Coso said. “I always ask myself, who are we? Are we Argentinians? Are we Americans? We are humans.

“I always find two things that we have in common: One is our love for life — how amazed we are by how life is, and how many things we do not know about what life is. The second thing is our fear of death — our death, and the death of our loved ones.

“What do we do? We look for answers,” he said. “All of us contribute to the search for answers for those questions that are common to all of us: how to fight the causes of death, and how to understand what life is.

“Moments like this celebrate our passion for that work.”

Tags: Center for AIDS Research, Miller School of Medicine, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami