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UA Public Health Graduate Students Receive Prestigious Cancer Research Fellowship

2019 CEESP Fellows, from left, Mariah Murray, Christina Baum, and Breanne Lott attended orientation for the fellowship program in New York City, March 22-23.

2019 CEESP Fellows, from left, Mariah Murray, Christina Baum, and Breanne Lott attended orientation for the fellowship program in New York City, March 22-23.

Congratulations to Mariah Murray, Christina Baum, and Breanne Lott, graduate students from the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and recipients of the 2019 Cancer Epidemiology Education in Special Populations (CEESP) Fellowship.

The CEESP provides funding for master of public health (MPH) and doctoral students to conduct summer research in U.S. minority and global settings. The 15-week summer program provides special educational opportunities for students to learn about cancer epidemiology in special populations as well as translation of epidemiology into cancer control and prevention interventions.

Breanne Lott is a doctoral student in health behavior health promotion. She will be working at Tikur Anbessa (Black Lion) Hospital and Radiotherapy Unit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia―the only cancer treatment center in the country. 

The title of her research project is, “Barriers and Facilitators to Cervical Cancer Screening in Ethiopia: Health Professionals’ Cervical Cancer Knowledge and Screening Practices.”

Ethiopia has less than 25 oncologists and only one radiotherapy unit serving the entire population of more than 100 million. Training of health workers to perform opportunistic visual inspection of the cervix during routine care has been offered all across the country as part of a "screen-and-treat" scale-up approach. However, providers report low rates of screening and a knowledge-practice gap. 

Working with Dr. Dawit Worku, an oncologist at Black Lion Hospital, they will work towards increasing the number of screenings and improve the knowledge gap by implementing screening methods. 

“I'm really looking forward to the training and mentorship opportunities provided through this fellowship,” said Lott. “We’ll receive intensive mentorship from a team of cancer epidemiology experts in our host countries, at our home institutions, and at the City University of New York (CUNY) where the fellowship program is housed.”

Lott is also excited to be working with Dr. Worku, adding, "We will also be receiving epidemiology and research methods training before and after the summer fieldwork. I feel grateful for a chance to pursue an applied epidemiology project in a supportive fellowship environment."

Mariah Murray and Christina Baum, both master’s students with a concentration in epidemiology, will be working with the Gharbiah Cancer Society in Tanta, Egypt.

Murray’s research project will focus on the distribution of liver cancer incidence in Gharbiah, Egypt in relation to Hepatitis C infection and clustering of environmental heavy metal contamination. 

Liver cancer has one of the highest incidence rates in Egypt and patients with liver cancer often display high levels of heavy metal contaminants including, Vanadium, Zinc, Chromium, Nickel, and Copper. 

“My goals throughout the CEESP fellowship are to hone my skills in international research and further develop an investigative mind,” said Murray. “I look forward to fostering a deeper understanding of the underlying factors that contribute to liver cancer related health issues in Egypt. I am so grateful to all of my mentors and I look forward to learning as much as I can from their expertise.”

Baum’s research project will consist of analyzing secondary data collected by the Gharbiah Cancer Registry to explore geographic patterns of pancreatic cancer and to determine whether cancer cases are clustered in certain regions of Gharbiah. Baum will also collaborate with soil scientists at Tanta University and a former CEESP fellow to explore whether areas with higher cancer incidence rates are related to the distribution of heavy metals in the soil. 

“I viewed the program as an excellent opportunity to strengthen my data analysis and research skills while being able to work in an underserved population. The fellowship is unique in that it allows students to develop a research question, create a proposal, and answer their question by working with both local collaborators and mentors in the U.S.”

Baum hopes to learn not only about cancer epidemiology and the challenges of conducting research in developing countries, but also about Egyptian history and culture.

“Thank you to everyone who has helped me develop my research proposal and I look forward to sharing my experience upon returning to Tucson,” Baum added.

Interestingly enough, all three of our CEESP fellows this year attribute their decision to apply for the fellowship after speaking to Mario Trejo, a doctoral student in epidemiology at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health 2017 CEESP fellow, and excellent public health ambassador for the college.

The University of Arizona