News Global Health Center

Global Health Center collaborator appreciates reaching “the most vulnerable”

Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager for the Institute for Public Health

Thomas A. Odeny, MD, MPH, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Medicine Division of Hematology & Oncology
School of Medicine

Check Thomas Odeny’s faculty profile and you will surely appreciate his long list of honors and awards including one for outstanding academic achievement as a National Institute for Health Hematology/Oncology Fellow for two years running. He is also involved in many professional societies and organizations including the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Currently an assistant professor of oncology in WashU’s School of Medicine, Odeny is a frequent collaborator with the Global Health Center and Center for Dissemination and Implementation, both at the Institute for Public Health.

What you hear about most from Odeny, and can glean from his super bright smile, is a true passion for working with those who are the most vulnerable: people who live in low resource settings in the U.S. and Africa, or those who experience health disparities while living with cancer or infectious diseases such as HIV. His current research involves studying diseases that disproportionately affect global low-income, stigmatized and marginalized communities. He is interested in establishing and leading initiatives in global oncology that will “help train a new generation of globally-oriented physicians who will advance scientific discovery for underserved cancer populations globally.”   

With colleagues at the Global Health Center and the Center for Dissemination and Implementation and WashU’s Brown School, Odeny recently helped co-lead the submission of an NIH/NCI grant proposal to establish the Angaza (Swahili for “illuminate”) Africa Implementation Science Center for Equitable Cancer Control. He also participates in the Global Health Center’s monthly Early Stage Investigator meetings. Odeny recently traveled to Nairobi and Kisumu, Kenya to collaborate with partners there in an effort to extend Washington University’s global health research and partnerships.

Photo: Colleagues from Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and Washington University in St. Louis met in Nairobi and Kisumu, Kenya to discuss collaboration opportunities. Pictured from left to right: Dr. Samuel Gathere senior clinical research scientist, KEMRI and board member, National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Kenya; Dr. Betty Njoroge, clinical research officer, KEMRI; Thomas Odeny, MD, MPH, PhD,  WashU assistant professor of medicine; Jacaranda van Rheenen, PhD, manager of the Global Health Center; Elvin Geng, MD, MPH, (on screen), professor of medicine and director of WashU’s Center of Dissemination and Implementation; Prof. Elizabeth Bukusi, chief research officer, KEMRI; Dr. Nelly Mugo, senior principal clinical research scientist, KEMRI; Dr. Veronica Manduku, deputy director, Center for Clinical Research, KEMRI; Dr. Hudson Lodenyo , KEMRI; and Dr. Geoffrey Mutuma, senior research scientist, KEMRI

Odeny says the benefits to other researchers or students who might engage with the Global Health Center are two-fold: 1) one can be exposed to global health and its potential to spur innovationand 2) global health research leads to mutual benefits for patients globally and in the U.S. In other words, what works there, can work here and vice-versa. There is reciprocal innovation.

Odeny adds that working in global health “offers an opportunity to learn or build ‘cultural humility’, an attribute applicable in many other areas of public health—and life in general.”

Working with the Global Health Center has also provided Odeny with exposure to funding opportunities, networking and mentorship (for students) that might not otherwise be visible or obvious.

As a clinician, Odeny says he enjoys the ability to reach people and help in ways that can be measured in days or weeks. However, “As a global health researcher, I enjoy the process of finding answers to questions with the potential for major public health impact,” he says.

Engaging with the Global Health Center is an opportunity to harness the power of the field of global health to design the most effective public health strategies to reach, treat and cure the most vulnerable patients in low-resource settings in the U.S. and globally.

Thomas Odeny, MD