Sylvester Hosts University Delegation from Northeast Nigeria
Event marks an opportunity to increase global health equity and accelerate medical research and education.
New research studies, training opportunities and improved clinical care are key goals for a growing collaborative relationship between Nigerian health care institutions and Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
“We are committed to global health equity and look forward to strengthening our international relationships with our colleagues in Nigeria,” said Sophia George, Ph.D., Sylvester’s associate director for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences in the Miller School’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology.
Sylvester leaders recently hosted a 25-person delegation representing eight universities and the Nigerian Universities Commission in a week-long visit to the Coral Gables and medical school campuses, in partnership with UM’s Center for Global Black Studies. Welcoming the delegation were Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School; Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., who is also Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and professor of medicine, biochemistry, and molecular biology at the Miller School and Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., Sylvester’s associate director of population sciences and health disparities, and UM vice-provost of research.
Leonidas Bachas, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UM, and Guillermo Prado, dean of the Graduate School, vice provost for Faculty Affairs and professor of nursing and health studies, public health sciences and psychology, also met with the delegation.
“We look forward to learning about your work and the points of intersection for a broader impact,” said Dr. Kobetz. “With so much diversity of experience, we have many opportunities to collaborate and find a path forward together.”
The week-long convening represents the continued strengthening of Sylvester’s research and patient care collaborations with a large network of institutions of higher education in West Africa, added Matthew P. Schlumbrecht, M.D., M.P.H., professor of clinical obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences; vice chair of global and community health; and director, Gynecologic Oncology Fellowship at Sylvester.
“Our ability to recognize shared challenges and work together to develop constructive solutions in the fields of science and medicine is really a testament to the importance of global approaches in understanding our local communities and the multiple intersections of humankind.”
Dr. George has been collaborating with Dr. Schlumbrecht and Nigerian researchers for the past four years on genetic studies related to ovarian cancer. Dr. Schlumbrecht also mentors gynecologic oncology fellowships through the International Society of Gynecologic Cancer, which provides in-depth oncology training for physicians in Lagos and Zaria in northern Nigeria.
Last August, the two Sylvester specialists traveled to Nigeria, where Dr. George set up collection sites for the African-Caribbean Single Cell (sc) Network – a project focusing on the genetic drivers behind breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. Meanwhile, Dr. Schlumbrecht provided in-depth training for Nigerian gynecologic oncology fellows in Lagos in collaboration with the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria and the IGCS.
“Now, we want to expand on our current projects, learn from each others’ best practices, and establish a broader range of bi-directional engagements in the humanities, education and economics as well as medicine,” said Dr. George. “This is a rich opportunity for our university to broaden our global impact.”
The Nigerian Perspective
Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, who heads Nigeria’s National Universities Commission, agreed on the importance of sharing medical knowledge. “We hope this convening will open a window for our universities to access advanced clinical and research practices from one of the best medical education institutions in the world,” he said. “My colleagues certainly understand the value of consultations with Sylvester specialists in cervical, ovarian and breast cancer patients.”
Rasheed added that his daughter, Dr. Fatima Rasheed, a gynecology specialist and delegation member, has treated young women with advanced cervical cancer with no previous symptoms.
“We hope to understand more about the disease in the context of Nigeria’s social, environmental and economic situation,” he said.
Northeast Nigeria offers many opportunities for collaborative research, according to Dr. Yusuf Jibrin, chief medical director, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital in rural Bauchi State. He cited the hospital’s Molecular Genetics and Infectious Disease Research Laboratory, which recently studied a potential connection between Lassa fever and COVID-19.
“Now, we are evaluating gene expression of common Nigerian infectious diseases as predictive biomarkers of cervical, bladder and AIDS-related cancers in our region,” he said. “We also want to explore the possibility of vaccine development for Lassa fever as part of our deep commitment to medical research.”
Professor Hamidu Ahmed, chief medical director at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, said his facility is collaborating with Sylvester researchers on an ovarian cancer clinical trial and has already benefited from the Sylvester-sponsored fellowships. “Now, we want to consolidate our relationship and make collaboration as seamless as possible,” he said. “The sky is the limit for all of us in Nigeria.”
Reflecting on his collaborations with Dr. George, Professor Bala Audu, vice chancellor of the Federal University of Health Sciences in Azare, said, “The history of our collaboration points to greater things to come. We have the full support of our regulatory agencies and institutions to identify areas of research that have translational effects on humanity. Science is international and our findings can impact people in Miami as well as Nigeria.”