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Career-Development Cancer Research Training in Africa: The BIG Cat/AORTIC initiatives

27 Jan 2022
Guest Editors: Abubakar Bello, Hannah Ayettey, James Alaro and Solomon Rotimi

Abubakar Bello1, Hannah Ayettey2, James Alaro3 and Solomon Rotimi4

1 Department of Radiotherapy and Oncology, National Hospital Abuja, Nigeria

2 National Radiotherapy Oncology and Nuclear Medicine Centre, Guggisberg Avenue, PO Box KB 319, Korlebu Teaching Hospital, Accra, Ghana, West Africa

3 Center for Global Health, National Cancer Institute, 9609 Medical Center Drive, Rockville, MD 20892-9760, USA 

Department of Biochemistry, Covenant University, Ota, Nigeria

Correspondence to: Solomon Rotimi Email: 

The cancer burden in Africa continues to grow rapidly, and the continent is expected to bear the burden of cancer by 2040, with West, Middle, and East African countries having an over 100% increase in cancer incidence [1]. This increase in the burden on Africa is, in part, due to the dearth of research into understanding the determinants of this disease among African populations and the limited human resources that are available on the continent [2].

Hence, the need to develop the critical mass of workforce to confront the existential burden of cancer in Africa has been a pressing task for the African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC). With the overarching mission of transforming cancer control in Africa through collaboration in education, research, and delivery of equitable and timely interventions to minimize the impact of cancer, AORTIC instituted the Beginning Investigator Grant for Catalytic Research (BIG Cat) in 2010. The BIG Cat initiative is supported by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and Center for Global Health (CGH) of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as well as institutional and industrial partners. BIG Cat provides research funding of up to $50,000 over a two year period and an additional $5,000 for meeting attendance [3]. This support is provided to African early-stage investigators who live in Africa to conduct cancer research in Africa. Over the past decade, BIG Cat has ‘catalysed’ the research career of 19 African investigators, most of whom have now taken up research leadership positions across the continent. The awards cut across the different regions of the continent and span the whole of the cancer control continuum.

This special issue features the research of four BIG Cat awardees. The issue starts with the investigation of the “Cervical cancer in women living in South Africa: a record linkage study of the National Health Laboratory Service and the National Cancer Registry” led by Dr. Mazvita Sengayi-Muchengeti (BIG Cat cohort 3 awardee). This study provided additional evidence for racial disparities in cervical cancer burden, even in Africa. A major comorbidity of cancer is psychoneurological symptoms, including depression. Hence, the second article, authored by Farrant et al. (BIG Cat cohort 2 awardee) focused on the “Symptom prevalence and burden, and the risk of depression among patients with advanced cancer attending two South African oncology units.” This study further validated the high prevalence of pain and depression among cancer patients despite the advances in policy and clinical education. The third publication, authored by Kassaman et al. (BIG Cat cohort 3 awardee), identified the role of “Fear, faith, and finances in the survivorship experience of breast and cervical cancer patients in Kenya”. The last publication authored by Zyambo et al. (BIG Cat cohort 3 awardee) was on the “Evaluation of an association between gastric cancer and plasma selenium in Zambian adults: A case-control study” and reported that despite the antioxidant properties of selenium and the role of oxidative stress in carcinogenesis, the incidence of gastric cancer in Zambian adults was not associated with selenium level.

The spectrum of these studies exemplifies the overarching goal of BIG Cat. Hence, with the relaunch of BIG Cat, AORTIC hopes that more African cancer early-stage investigators will take this advantage to accelerate their cancer research career and contribute to developing strategies that will control the burden of cancer on the continent.


[1] Sung H, Ferlay J, Siegel RL, Laversanne M, Soerjomataram I, Jemal A, et al (2021) Global Cancer Statistics 2020: GLOBOCAN Estimates of Incidence and Mortality Worldwide for 36 Cancers in 185 Countries CA Cancer J Clin 71 (3) 209-49

[2] Rotimi SO, Rotimi OA, Salhia B (2021) Authorship Patterns in Cancer Genomics Publications Across Africa JCO Glob Oncol 7 747-55

[3] Vogel AL, Freeman JA, Duncan K, Alaro J, Welch JJ, Rodrigues B, et al (2019) Advancing Cancer Research in Africa Through Early-Career Awards: The BIG Cat Initiative J Glob Oncol 5 1-8

Special Issue Articles

Lindsay Farrant, Richard Harding, David Anderson, Linda Greeff, Reshma Kassanjee, ‪René Krause, Zainab Mohamed, Jeannette Parkes, Liz Gwyther
Tafadzwa Dhokotera, Serra Asangbeh, Julia Bohlius, Elvira Singh, Matthias Egger, Eliane Rohner, Jabulani Ncayiyana, Gary M Clifford, Victor Olago, Mazvita Sengayi-Muchengeti