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

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

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

  • provide PhD training in infectious disease epidemiology at UNC to two young investigators from UNAN-León;
  • create a sustainable supply of well-trained biomedical scientists in the region by establishing an accredited PhD 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, MD, MPH, associated professor in the Departments of Family Medicine and Epidemiology at UNC and co-principal investigator for NEED.

UNC 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.

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 UNC. Five students will participate in the biomedical sciences PhD program at UNAN and will complete a month-long laboratory rotation at UNC. 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, PhD, who is the UNAN-León principal investigator for NEED.

In addition to Becker-Dreps, UNC faculty involved in NEED include Steven Meshnick, MD, PhD; Aravinda de Silva, PhD; Ralph Baric, PhD; Helen Lazear, PhD; Michael Emch, PhD; and Tania Desrosiers, PhD. In addition to Vilchez, UNAN-León faculty include Filemon Bucardo, PhD; Mercedes Cáceres, PhD; and Aurora Aragón, PhD.