It's a Small World After All, Even for the American Cancer Society

If you follow global health funding, you know that most philanthropic dollars go to combat the dread diseases of poor countrieslike malaria, TB, polio, and HIV/AIDs. Looking ahead, though, it's safe to predict that the focus on grantmaking is likely to shift somewhat, as the populations of emerging countries confront more of the health challenges of rich countries—like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. 

The American Cancer Society is one funder that has long looked beyond U.S. borders.

The ACS is now accepting applications for its 2016 International Fellowships for Beginning Investigators (ACSBI)an annual foreign exchange program that sends early-career medical researchers to study cancer in developing nations. The one-year, $50,000 fellowships are meant to advance the careers of cancer investigators who want to conduct translational, clinical behavioral or population research projects.  

The ACS Beginning Investigator program is conducted with the Global Education and Training Initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control, which aims to ensure the availability of modern medical care everywhere. Unfortunately, much of everywhere is facing a serious shortage of doctors and other health care workersnot to mention researchers. As you'd expect, poorer countries are the hardest hit, and have the greatest need for insight into both the treatment and prevention of cancer.

Since it started, the ACS international fellowships have funded researchers from 45 countries, the better to increase the flow of know-how about cancer and its control between institutions around the world. After the fellowships are completed, ASCBI researchers have to return to their home institutes. This encourages stronger personal and scientific connections, which leads to better and faster sharing of information and best practices worldwide.

The program is designed to provide an important additional professional rung for recently minted cancer researchers as they climb the steep slope of an early career, on the way to becoming full-fledged principal investigators. As we have also noted before, in the U.S., medical research is a tough business to break into: Competition for federal research dollars is stiff, and newer scientists need every chance they can get to sharpen their focus and show a pathway to results for their research. It's presumably even harder for scientists in developing countries, with leaner research budgets.

Raising the quality of cancer research and treatment in developing nations is an invaluable good in its own right, but the benefits of a foreign exchange program like this one don't just accrue to the researchers and patients in those far-off, less wealthy countries. The U.S. is a salad bowl of genotypes, so it's crucial that researchers and doctors here can deliver varied treatments for any given cancer or other disease. A medicine that works well for a patient of eastern European descent may not be as effective for a person of Asian descent, and so on.

The more populations that are studied, the better for everyone, no matter where your parents or your passport is from.