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‘Our hope for the future’: delegation from the Embassy of India explores academic partnerships with Massey

Nov 01, 2021

Indian Delegation

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center hosted two delegates from the Embassy of India in Washington, D.C. on October 21, 2021, as part of a daylong visit to both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses.

Dhananjay Tiwary, Ph.D., science and technology counselor, and Anshul Sharma, counselor for education, met with VCU leaders to explore potential educational and exchange opportunities for students in India and the United States.

One stop was the laboratory of Robert A. Winn, M.D., director and Lipman Chair in Oncology at Massey and senior associate dean for cancer innovation and a professor of pulmonary disease and critical care medicine at the VCU School of Medicine.

“Any kind of partnership would be fantastic,” said Winn about collaborating with the Embassy of India. “Our hope for the future of VCU and the future of Massey is more diversity among students, more diversity among team members and a greater reflection of our diverse community in our research.”

Winn’s current basic science research focuses on the molecular mechanisms and novel therapeutic approaches for human models of lung cancer. As they learned more about the work at Massey, Tiwary and Sharma commented on similarities between Winn’s research team and Indian counterparts in their approach and cancer priorities.

According to a 2020 World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO-IARC) report, one-in-10 men and women in India will develop cancer during their lifetime; one-in-15 will die from it. Breast cancer represents the highest incidence rate in India, followed by oral, cervical, lung, stomach and colorectal. The WHO-IARC identified a direct correlation between cancer incidence and socio-economic status across India. 

“We have finally gotten past the idea of race as a biology and see it as a social construct,” Winn said. “We think in terms of place and space and how that fits into chronic diseases and how we can have interventions at different points.”

Following the lab tour, Tiwary and Sharma engaged in a presentation by Said Sebti, Ph.D., associate director for basic research and the Lacy Family Chair in Cancer Research at Massey and a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the VCU School of Medicine.

Massey’s Molecules to Medicine (M2M) program, led by Sebti, aims to contribute to the cure of cancer by creating smart anti-cancer molecules that kill tumors but not normal cells. It promotes joint efforts between chemists, biologists and clinicians to discover new drugs, antibodies, vaccines and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy to test in the laboratory and in patients. The goal is for this local research to have a global impact.

“At Massey, we not only do great science but we also do great science that affects all,” said Sebti. “Our catchment area has much to offer. We have a very diverse and engaged community where we can study differences at all levels including at the molecular level.”

Massey defines its catchment as 66 contiguous localities in central, eastern and southern Virginia. This area is home to four million racially, ethnically, geographically and socioeconomically diverse individuals.

Winn told Tiwary and Sharma that any programs derived from the visit would mutually benefit Massey and students from India, and he expects the cultural exchange would influence breakthroughs in science.

“I often say ‘community-omics’ is the missing ‘omics’,” Winn said. “There is a concept of getting the people to the [pressurized intraperitoneal aerosol chemotherapy], so to speak. Inserting community information into procedures and therapies to refine the scientific question.”

Written by: Amy Lacey

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