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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

UNC Faculty Member to Lead Global Health Research on Gates Foundation’s Grant to Hospital in Brazil

Dr. Jennifer S. Smith, director of the Cervical Cancer-Free Coalition, associate professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been named as a principal investigator for a Grand Challenges Explorations grant, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

[Photo: Photo: Dr. Jennifer Smith]

Dr. Smith will pursue an innovative global health and development research project to determine the effectiveness of a urine-based, cervical cancer screening tool.

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Dr. Smith’s project, funded at $100,000, is one of more than 40 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced on May 27 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To receive funding, Dr. Smith and other Grand Challenges Explorations grantees demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas. Dr. Laura Musselwhite, of Duke University, and Dr. José Humberto Fregnani, of Hospital de Câncer de Barretos, in São Paulo, Brazil, are Dr. Smith’s partners on the project.

Investigators from UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, and Barretos Cancer Hospital will perform a proof-of-concept study in Brazil to determine the effectiveness of a urine-based, cervical cancer screening tool.

More than 250,000 women die from cervical cancer each year, with Brazil having the third most cervical cancer deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates this number will double in the next 15 years. Cervical cancer deaths are largely preventable; however, the vast majority of women who die from the disease were never screened.

The researchers will be working with a screening kit that resembles a home-based pregnancy test and can be used without medical assistance. The test will screen for the presence of the E6 protein in a woman’s urine. Human papilloma virus 16 and 18, which are known causes of cervical cancer, produce the E6 protein.

Dr. Smith said the anticipated advantages of the proposed cervical cancer screening tool are that it would be a low-cost and simple to process; easy to use and self-interpret, offering a clear signal for follow-up; and potential accurate assessment of women at higher risk of high-grade lesions and cervical cancer.

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