A delegation of Stempel College representatives, led by Dean Tomás R. Guilarte and Carlos Espinal, director of the Global Health Consortium, recently visited Colombia as part of the college’s efforts to strengthen ties and improve public health in the country. The Global Health Consortium is focusing much of its efforts in Colombia, while the college looks to strengthen ties with deeper and broader collaborations in the region.
The four-day, multi-city tour was a chance for researchers and leadership to engage with local stakeholders and organizations that can boost the college’s collaborative opportunities in research areas that include neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.
“This trip highlights the vast opportunities that we have to help improve public health through partnerships in countries like Colombia and throughout Latin America,” said Guilarte. “We are grateful to all the opportunities that have arisen and we have already built strong partnership that will improve health outcomes for generations to come.”
One of the highlights of the trip was the Global Health Leadership dinner, which was attended by more than 50 guests including Diego Hernandez, director of COLCIENCIAS; Carolina Weisner, director of the National Cancer Institute; as well as many of our collaborators and partners from universities, research institutions and the pharmaceutical sector.
“It was a resounding success! This dinner was an opportunity to have all of our collaborators in a room to meet and discuss prospective research partnerships as well as give health leaders more information about the innovative work being done at Stempel College,” Guilarte added.
While in Bogota, the group also met with Carlos Alberto Cano Gutiérrez of the Aging Institute at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana to discuss Alzheimer’s disease and aging. Building upon a collaboration that was discussed last year, the team sat down with renowned neuroscientist Francisco Lopera to talk neurodegenerative diseases and Alzheimer’s disease, specifically.
The delegation also met with COLCIENCIAS, Colombia’s administrative department of science, technology and innovation, and La Asociación Nacional de Empresarios de Colombia (ANDI), a non-profit association that aims to disseminate and promote the political, economic and social principles of health in Colombia.
“COLCIENCIAS and ANDI are two of the leading organizations in the country that are working to better the health in Colombia, and we are honored to be working with both organizations,” Espinal said. “With their insights and our expertise, we hope to be able to explore various facets of the health landscape and improve lives for current and future generations in Colombia.”
Other highlights of the trip included a visit to the Hospital Infantil Los Angeles in the town of Pasto, where there is an unusually high incidence of leukemia in children under four years old. A major region for cocaine production, the area’s leukemia rate in children is at 60 percent compared to 30 percent globally.
“Major environmental risk factors may be associated with the high incidence of childhood cancers in Pasto which suggests that parents and/or children could be exposed to environmental toxins. We visited the hospital and met with researchers and oncologists who are keen to collaborate with Stempel College to identify the direct environmental causes of the increased risk of leukemia,” said Diana Azzam, assistant professor. “In addition, there is an opportunity to provide novel treatment options for these children through genomic profiling and individualized drug testing.”
During a day trip to Cartagena, the Stempel delegation met with representatives from the University of Cartagena to discuss mutual research and educational interests as well as the possibility of the Global Health Consortium from Stempel College having a physical presence at the university.
“Understanding the need to study health disparities, neurodegenerative diseases, mental health, drug use and their impact on overall health were topics that we discussed throughout the trip,” Guilarte said. “Partnering with Colombian agencies and universities will give us new opportunities for our research, student and faculty exchange, and the work we are doing to improve global health.”