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AACR and AORTIC Announce Four Grants to Support Early-career Cancer Researchers in Africa

PHILADELPHIA — The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC) today announced four grants to promote and support early-career investigators in Africa as they begin to establish careers in cancer research.

The Beginning Investigator Grant for Catalytic Research (BIG Cat) aims to aid and encourage the next generation of African cancer researchers as they launch careers in their home countries, thereby contributing to the overall expansion of capacity for research and training in Africa. BIG Cat was initiated in 2010 by the U.S. National Cancer Institute Center for Global Health (NCI/CGH), and it is now a collaborative effort of AORTIC, AACR, and NCI/CGH, with funding support from Takeda Pharmaceuticals through their Center for Health Equity and Patient Affairs.

Researchers in any area of cancer research were eligible to apply for these grants, which are intended to catalyze subsequent grant applications from other funding sources. Each grant will provide US$55,000 over two years. All funds provided must be spent in Africa for expenses related to the research project, which may include salary and benefits for the grant recipient and any collaborators or assistants; supplies and equipment; publication charges for manuscripts that pertain directly to the funded project; and other research expenses.

“We are thrilled to announce the four recipients of the 2022 cohort of the BIG Cat program,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “These prestigious grants, selected through a highly competitive review process by a committee of respected and accomplished investigators, are carefully designed to provide valuable training opportunities for researchers in Africa to establish a successful career path. These promising scientists and their meritorious research projects will contribute to our understanding of cancer, thereby benefiting more patients.”

“The Beginning Investigator Grant for Catalytic Research provides young, ardent African scientists a boost to further their research,” said AORTIC President Rose Anorlu, MBChB, MPH. “Exceptional and innovative research by Africans, for Africans, is highly appropriate in the continuous quest for better care of our cancer patients, and this grant program provides a stepping stone to reach this goal.”

The four grant recipients are:

Leonardo Alves de Souza Rios, PhD, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

Project Title: Pathobiology of HIV-associated lymphomas – Defining the role of HIV-1 Tat

Alves de Souza Rios’ proposed research aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the role of a viral protein, HIV-1 Transactivator of Transcription (Tat), in the development and progression of lymphoma in patients infected with HIV using advanced and sophisticated cellular and molecular techniques. In the long term, these data could be used to develop models of prognostic and diagnostic utility in the management of patients at risk of developing these aggressive lymphomas and potentially provide new avenues for treatment.

“I am honored to receive the BIG Cat award,” said Alves de Souza Rios. “This grant will enable the expansion of research in the important field of HIV-associated malignancies, which affect a large portion of our population. It also provides me with the opportunity and support to start an independent research program.”

Adwoa Bemah Boamah Mensah, PhD, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana

Project Title: Development and evaluation of a mobile app to promote breast cancer screening

In Ghana, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, in part due to its late stage at presentation to the clinic, with 80 percent of women waiting more than eight months to seek treatment after first noticing a change in their breasts. Boamah Mensah’s project aims to improve the early detection of breast cancer in this population with a mobile app that encourages regular self and clinical breast exams, provides information and education about screening for breast cancer, and links women to care as appropriate.

“This grant will expand my capacity for research and training to generate practice- and policy-relevant evidence, thereby promoting and supporting me to establish a successful career path in cancer research in KNUST and Ghana,” said Boamah Mensah. “Ultimately, I will develop interventions that will potentially further the health of women.”

Abram Bunya Kamiza, PhD, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Project Title: Evolving genetic factors for cervical cancer in women of African ancestry

Kamiza’s proposed research seeks to identify genetic factors associated with cervical cancer. More specifically, goals for the project include identifying novel genetic variants associated with cervical cancer in black South African women; performing a trans-ethnic meta-analysis; developing genetic risk scores that can be used to identify women at high risk of cervical cancer; and assessing whether certain lifestyle factors are causally associated with cervical cancer.

“This grant is important to me, as it will provide a platform to uncover genetic variants associated with cervical cancer in women of African ancestry, develop polygenetic risk scores that may be used for targeted screening and preventative strategies, and establish local, regional, and international networks for future collaborations,” said Kamiza.

Imran Morhason-Bello, MD, PhD, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Project Title: Epigenetic biomarkers of anal HPV infection in women with cervical HPV

Using epigenetic analysis, Morhason-Bello’s project will assess whether there are common biological markers in women who have similar high-risk HPV types in the cervix and anus and compare these markers in women who have high-risk HPV in their cervix only. The detection of such biological markers could potentially be developed into screening tools for the early detection of precancer and cancer of the anus.

“The BIG Cat grant is hopefully going to catalyze my aspiration as a clinician-scientist to continuously attract competitive grants and engage in cutting-edge multidisciplinary team research using novel technologies to answer critical public health research questions on HPV infections and associated cancers and other cancers in Africa,” said Morhason-Bello.