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NIH Grant to Provide Doctoral Training to Nicaraguan Researchers

May 17, 2018
Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a five-year $1.2 million grant to support training Nicaraguan researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at the University of Nicaragua, León (UNAN-León).

The Nicaraguan Emerging and Endemic Diseases (NEED) Training Program will:

  • provide Ph.D. training in infectious disease epidemiology at UNC-Chapel Hill to two young investigators from UNAN-León;
  • create a sustainable supply of well-trained biomedical scientists in the region by establishing an accredited Ph.D. program in biomedical sciences at UNAN-León; and
  • foster professional growth and research skills development through short-term learning opportunities.

“The rationale for this program is to protect the public health of populations by increasing the numbers and expertise of local scientists to describe the epidemiology of these viral pathogens, understand their impact on morbidity and mortality, and identify evidence-based approaches to reduce their burden of disease,” said Sylvia Becker-Dreps, associated professor in the family medicine and epidemiology departments at Carolina and co-principal investigator for NEED.

Carolina began a partnership with UNAN-León on service and teaching initiatives in 1999. Funded research initiatives began in 2003, with a focus on gastrointestinal disease epidemiology. IGHID supported the development of the first Institutional Review Board with Federal Wide Assurance at UNAN, which was the first in Nicaragua. A memorandum of understanding between the two universities was first signed in 2008.

group of researchers looking at a laptop
Aravinda de Silva, center, is another member of Carolina’s faculty working to help train Nicaraguan researchers.

NEED deepens this collaboration by providing graduate-level educational opportunities in Nicaragua, where similar training is not currently available. Two promising Nicaraguan investigators will undergo doctoral training at Carolina. Five students will participate in the biomedical sciences Ph.D. program at UNAN and will complete a month-long laboratory rotation at Carolina. About 140 trainees will benefit from short-term learning opportunities which is also intended to grow the pipeline of future biomedical scientists.

“This program will establish scientific capacities and competences unique not only for the future scientific development of Nicaragua, but for the Central American region, too, by providing educational opportunities that don’t currently exist in Nicaragua,” said Samuel Vilchez, who is the UNAN-León principal investigator for NEED.

In addition to Becker-Dreps, UNC-Chapel Hill faculty involved in NEED include Steven Meshnick and Aravinda de Silva, professors of epidemiology and microbiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health; Ralph Baric, professor of microbiology and immunology at the School of Medicine and professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School; Helen Lazear, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunity in the School of Medicine; Michael Emch, adjunct professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School and professor of geography in the College of Arts and Sciences; and Tania Desrosiers, research assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the Gillings School. In addition to Vilchez, UNAN-León faculty include Filemon Bucardo, Mercedes Cáceres and Aurora Aragón.

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