A global health program established by researchers at the University of Oxford, aimed at improving the diagnosis and treatment of blood cancers in children from some of the less-developed areas of Tanzania and Uganda.
At present, 95% of global child lymphoma blood cancers cases are found in sub-Saharan Africa. A subsection of blood cancers known as Epstein-Barr Virus-related lymphomas (or EBV lymphomas) are particularly aggressive, and have become the focus of AI-REAL; a new international global health collaboration which hopes to improve EBV lymphoma treatment and diagnosis.
Prof. Anna Schuh, Associate Professor of Haematology at the University of Oxford leads this new UK-Africa project, which aims to bring the next generation of diagnosis technology to Tanzania and Uganda. Prof. Schuh hopes the in-country testing process for EBV lymphomas can be improved in order to improve early diagnosis and chances of survival.
Prof. Schuh and her team have been visiting Africa during the project to provide training in various techniques and equipment, with the hope of minimising patient pain.
Training in blood tests, or ‘liquid biopsies’, is provided, which detect circulating tumour DNA in patients’ bloodstreams to determine the presence of virus-associated cancers such as EBV-driven lymphomas. Liquid biopsies are a new diagnostic technique which are significantly less invasive and are a recent result of new research from Schuh’s team.
New equipment and training programs have already been established in the four project sites, whilst live-streaming technology will be employed to share the knowledge of diagnostic clinicians in the UK with those in Uganda and Tanzania.
By sharing these best practices and bringing the latest technological advances in genetic testing in country, it is possible to set up effective and affordable cancer diagnostics through the use of simple blood tests.
EBV driven lymphomas are treatable if caught early. It is the hope of this project that, through earlier detection and advanced technology training, the current 90% death rate seen in children with this kind of blood cancer can become a 90% cure rate.
This project was launched in February 2020, and is a partnership between the University of Oxford and medical teams in the Muhimbili National Hospital, Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, St Mary’s Hospital (Lacor) and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, with funding from the NIHR RIGHT Programme.