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Cancer researcher calls for more targeted treatment approach

Professor Zodway Dlamini (Photograph supplied)

Cancer’s unequal toll between people of African descent and other racial groups highlights the need for a more targeted approach in the treatment of the disease, an acclaimed South African cancer researcher has revealed.

Professor Zodwa Dlamini, who will speak at 6pm today at the Bermuda College, cited the example of differences in prostate cancer and breast cancer for Black patients compared with those of European descent.

Dr Dlamini said she was “excited and honoured” to give the free lecture Exploiting Global Networks for The Fight against Cancer, sharing her discoveries about the disease.

One new network is Dr Dlamini’s partnership with Bermudian scientist Carika Weldon and her research company CariGenetics, which explores the genetic make-up of people of Caribbean descent and its implications for medical treatment.

Dr Dlamini said it was critical to broaden the genetic database used in cancer treatments to make therapies more targeted.

Her talk draws on extensive experience as the scientific director of the South African Medical Research Council and UP Precision Prevention & Novel Drug Targets for HIV-Associated Cancers extramural unit.

“I believe that access to information about cancer research is quite important so we can work together in the fight against cancer,” she said.

“Exploiting global networks for the fight against cancer and accessing diverse populations brings us closer to transforming and improving cancer care both in high-income countries and in underserved populations, and closing the cancer health disparities gap.”

She added: “Everybody from all walks of life should be able to gain some knowledge.”

Dr Dlamini is scientific director at the Pan African Cancer Research Institute at the University of Pretoria.

She told The Royal Gazette: “The Western world is keen to work with us. Because of genetics, they might be in a position to unravel new things which might improve their drugs or cancer care.

“We think we will benefit if our genetics are out there – they can specifically know the drug that will work best for this person.”

Dr Dlamini said much of cancer care was stuck in a “one size fits all” model.

“For Black patients, prostate cancer is said to be quite different – there is a paper coming which says for Black Americans it can be very aggressive and does not respond very well to certain drugs.

“Breast cancer for Black women can also get more aggressive.”

She said PACRI had been able to share research with the Cancer Vaccine Institute at the University of Washington in the US.

Dr Dlamini said an impediment to Black inclusion in cancer and genetic research for countries such as the US was healthcare inequality – but also lingering suspicion left by racist programmes such as the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study begun in the 1930s that violated the rights of Black participants.

She said her partnership with CariGenetics could help broaden the genetic database available to researchers and hone in on specific differences in cancer treatment according to a patient’s genetic make-up.

Her talk at the Bermuda College will also expose differences in cancer rates and treatment.

“Cancer rates are high in European countries,” she said. “But the death rates are lower.

“In Third World countries, the rate of cancer is growing – but the death rates are much higher. I come from a village where people can die from cancer without ever being diagnosed.”

Dr Dlamini also belongs to the Council for Scientific Advisers of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, and the Academy of Science of South Africa.

The lecture, which will be streamed live via the CariGenetics Facebook page, is open to interested members of the public as well as guests from the medical field.

Dr Weldon said: “As a Bermudian who has been impacted by cancer personally – losing my grandmother to it in 2017 – and as a Bermudian who studied cancer while I was pursuing my PhD, I feel it is my duty to use my knowledge of genetics to try and improve cancer care in Bermuda.

“At CariGenetics, our goal is to educate and empower in order for our people to not only know what is possible, but to help to make it happen through establishing key partnerships with researchers like Professor Dlamini, who are at the cutting edge of cancer research.”

She added: “CariGenetics and PACRI will have a strategic partnership to ensure research advances in cancer in Africa are realised in the Caribbean.

“This includes work currently being done to design cancer therapies for those of African descent.

“I am thrilled to be able to bring such cutting edge research to Bermuda’s shores and expand into the region.”

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Published February 13, 2023 at 7:54 am (Updated February 13, 2023 at 7:54 am)

Cancer researcher calls for more targeted treatment approach

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