Pan African Cancer Research Institute at UP highlights importance of community cancer centres, prevention

Posted on February 04, 2020

The Pan African Cancer Research Institute (PACRI) has hit the ground running after successfully hosting its inaugural lecture series on “the key role of cancer centres for improving prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer”.

The international series, which recently hosted University of Nottingham Centre for Cancer Sciences Director Professor David Bates as its first speaker, is a platform that the PACRI uses to engage with other academics and scientists locally and internationally on the subject of cancer and cancer research.

PACRI is led by Professor Zodwa Dlamini, as its Director, and is housed by the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of Pretoria (UP). The institute was officially established in September 2019.

In his address, Professor Bates made the case for the importance of cancer centres in communities, highlighting a phenomenon first identified by American researchers that found a positive correlation between the management of cancer and the presence of cancer research centres in communities.

Professor Mike Sathekge, Head of Nuclear Medicine at UP and PACRI’s Head of Translational Oncology (Molecular Genetics, Translational Oncogenomics and Drug Discovery), said the goal was to use the institute’s expertise to inform and educate South Africans, and the rest of the continent, about cancer.

 “The role we want to play nationally is that we want to emphasise the issue of prevention. The prevention of cancer is not happening as we’d want it to in South Africa. If you, for instance, take colorectal cancer (cancer that affects the colon and the rectum), if you look at it among men and women above the age of 50, the incidence is rising. Ideally, we should all scope. If you are to do the scope, then you can get treatment. So, institutions like PACRI will help us think about how we can detect cancer earlier and how to treat it. We also want to invest in collaboration, ensuring that we work with other academics across disciplines,” Prof Sathekge said.  

The Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Tiaan de Jager and Chair of the PACRI Advisory Board, said PACRI is the realisation of the goal set by the University to adopt a transdisciplinary approach.

“PACRI was established last year on the 19th of September 2019 through Senate and I think what is important is to realise that this is a transdisciplinary approach to address many of the challenges that we face not only in South Africa, but in Africa. In addition to that, I think what is important is to remain focused on what the specific wish is for the University of Pretoria and this specific institute.”

He highlighted the different themes as identified in the documentation for the institute:

  • population and prevention sciences;
  • clinical research;
  • translational research (molecular genetics, translational oncogenomics and drug discovery);
  • immunology, viral infection and inflammation;
  • health disparities and precision oncology; and
  • clinical trials unit as well as a biostatistics core facility.

“Of course, this for us is an ongoing and dynamic process of growth and, as you know, refocusing, and strategising. It is also one where we seek to ensure that we are relevant to the communities around us,” he said.

- Author Masego Panyane

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