Fort Hare and University of Pretoria explore cancer research partnership

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As the rate of cancer-related mortality continues to rise worldwide, two South African universities located almost 1000 km’s apart, the University of Fort Hare (UFH) and the University of Pretoria (UP), are exploring possible research collaborations on cancer prevention and control.

According to the World Health Organization, cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, or nearly one in six deaths.

Paving way for the prospective research collaboration, staff from the UFH Faculty of Health Sciences recently hosted Professor Zodwa Dlamini, a leading expert in precision oncology and cancer prevention who is the Scientific Director of the South African Medical Research Council at UP (SAMRC/UP) Precision Prevention & Novel Drug Targets for HIV-Associated Cancers (PPNDTHAC) Extramural Unit. 

Prof Dlamini is also a Department of Science and Innovation National Research Foundation (DSI/NRF) Chair of precision oncology and cancer prevention and is the Inaugural Scientific Director of the Pan African Cancer Research Institute (PACRI) at UP.

Prof Dlamini’s visit was mainly to explore a possible research collaboration between the PACRI and UFH.

The week-long visit facilitated by the UFH Department of Natural Sciences led by Dr Pratima Chitnis, was a team effort spearheaded by cancer research specialists from the Faculty, Dr Nare Sekoba who is a physiology lecturer at the Department and the Acting Deputy Dean of the Faculty, Dr Hlengiwe Gwebu.

Joining the programme were stakeholders from the UFH Govern Mbeki Research & Development Centre represented by Dr Octovia Sibanda; the Department of Health represented by Dr Zukiswa Jafta who is an Oncologist; Mr Somloto who is a Medical Physicist; and researchers from the Faculty at the East London Health Resource Centre.

“The engagement created an opportunity for brilliant minds to meet and map a way forward in combating one of the emerging health problems in the Sub-Saharan region and the leading cause of mortality burden in low-to-middle income countries through research,” said Dr Sekoba.

The programme included a research seminar by Prof Dlamini titled: “Transforming the fight Against Cancer in Africa: From Cancer Control and Prevention to Novel Therapeutics for Improved Health Outcomes.”

The exploration of a research partnership comes as Dr Sekoba is co-authoring a book chapter on defeating Breast Cancer's Toughest Challenge: Advancements in Therapeutic Approaches for Conquering Drug Resistance, a project under PACRI that has brought together brilliant African scholars.

To follow, is a cancer awareness campaign in collaboration with PACRI, the Faculty and the Department of Health in October which is marked as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The campaign will target issues of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and esophageal cancer with the aim of educating the community of Eastern Cape on early diagnosis and treatment.

“The Faculty takes immense pride in successfully hosting Professor Dlamini and fostering long-lasting relationships for the University and its community. The programme was skillfully facilitated by the Dean (Prof Mzikazi Nduna), who ensured its smooth execution.”

“The engagement mapped a long overdue fruitful collaboration that will see the community of Eastern Cape at large, benefit immensely from its research cancer output. As the Faculty, we are committed to working tirelessly to make a significant impact in the fight against cancer and improve health outcomes for our local community,” said Dr Gwebu.