When it comes to supporting hematologists and working to conquer blood diseases, the reach of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) extends far beyond the borders of the U.S. ASH strives to foster an inclusive scientific community that uplifts and serves hematology professionals from all regions of the world, offering a wide array of programs for those based outside North America.
ASH Clinical News recently caught up with Ahlam Nasser, MD, a consultant hematologist and lecturer at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Science (MUHAS) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, who has been involved with two of ASH’s international programs, both as a volunteer and as an award recipient, to discuss her experiences and the impact these opportunities can have. Dr. Nasser was a recipient of the ASH Global Research Award (GRA) in 2022 and serves as the on-site coordinator of the collaborative ASH/Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) hematology program in Tanzania.
What interested you about the GRA and made you want to apply?
The award is specifically for early-career investigators like myself – it does not require one to have very high qualifications such as a PhD to apply. The type of research one can do is diverse and is not restricted to a specific topic.
Can you share what your experience receiving the GRA was like? What research project or training opportunity has the award helped support?
The GRA has allowed me to register for my PhD, and the award funds are supporting the laboratory research component of my PhD training, which is ongoing. My research involves building local capacity in molecular detection of treatment resistance among patients with chronic myeloid leukemia. Through the funds, we have been able to establish standard operating procedures to perform the testing and train lab scientists to administer it. We are currently offering testing through the research project, but the long-term goal is to incorporate it into routine patient care.
What role has mentorship played in your GRA? How did you select your mentors for this award?
My mentor team helped me develop and submit a successful application. There is a long history behind my mentor team for the GRA. I was first introduced to both of my mentors – Anna Schuh, MD, PhD, of the University of Oxford, and Neil Dunavin, MD, MS, of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) – through the HVO program. Dr. Schuh visited Tanzania in 2017 and joined my institution as a visiting professor in 2018. She has been mentoring me since then, and she is serving as a local mentor for the GRA.
Dr. Dunavin is acting as my global mentor – I first met him when he visited Tanzania in 2019. In 2021, we formally established a mentor-mentee relationship with the support of the UCSF Global Cancer Program. I was selected as a clinical research scholar by the MUHAS-Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI)-UCSF Cancer Collaboration, which enabled me to participate in the “Designing Clinical Research” course at UCSF. Dr. Dunavin served as a mentor through this course, which ultimately led me to submit a letter of intent (LOI) for this award. Following the acceptance of our LOI, I received additional support from the entire team at the MUHAS-ORCI-UCSF Cancer Collaboration in the development and submission of the full proposal, which was ultimately successful in receiving the award.
What have been your biggest takeaways from participating in both the GRA and HVO hematology programs?
These are great programs, and, if used well, they can have long-term and sustainable impacts that not only build one’s career in hematology but also translate to sustainable capacity building in that individual’s institution and country.
In many ways, which I cannot fully elaborate in a few words, the HVO hematology program in particular has allowed my colleagues and me to benefit from expert training in various fields of hematology through those ASH members who volunteer in Tanzania. It has also helped my colleagues and me establish long-lasting collaborations with the volunteers and their institutions. For example, in addition to the mentorships I developed with Drs. Schuh and Dunavin through the HVO program, I also established a collaboration with Jared Block, MD, of the Carolinas Pathology Group in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has contributed tremendously in building hematopathology capacity in our department and serves as the HVO site hematology project director for Tanzania to continuously support us through the ASH-HVO collaboration.
Why is it important for ASH to offer programs and research awards that are specifically designed for hematologists who are based outside the U.S.?
I believe ASH should be commended for making these efforts because these programs help build capacity in hematology by focusing on what is important, needed, and available in the respective local context. They also help to level the field of competition, especially in research awards – a research question that is important in low- and middle-income countries may not have the same priority in high-income countries.
Do you have any advice for hematologists living outside of the U.S. who want to become more involved with ASH?
I would encourage them to take advantage of these opportunities, which will have a sustained impact on their career development and on capacity building for their institutions and their countries. Start by logging in or creating an account on the ASH website, and visit the email subscription center under “My Account” to ensure that you will get all the opportunities presented to you in your inbox. You need to take personal initiative, and do not get discouraged if you do not get an award because there will always be a next time.
ASH Global Research Award – Apply Today!
Visit hematology.org/global-initiatives for more information on the GRA and how to apply, in addition to ASH’s other international programs, which include volunteer opportunities, training courses, research awards, and more. The deadline to submit a letter of intent for the GRA is August 31, 2023.