News Global Health Center

WashU’s collaboration with Uganda Cancer Institute to modernize radiation therapy treatment

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

It is predicted that there will be 24 million new cancer cases per year globally in 2030, with 75% of cancer deaths in the developing world. Radiotherapy (RT) is an effective and essential therapy for cancer treatment. However, access to advanced RT in low to middle-income countries is limited due to a lack of RT expertise and training, and expensive equipment and software.

Rapid Deployment of Radiation Therapy Treatments in Uganda, Baozhou Sun, primary investigator

Institute for Public Health Faculty Scholar, Baozhou Sun, PhD, and colleague Tianyu Zhao, PhD, both associate professors of radiation oncology at Washington University in St. Louis, are teaming up with the Uganda Cancer Institute and Makerere University School of Medicine in Africa to modernize radiation therapy for cancer patients. Sun and Zhao’s recent trip to Uganda, which included on-site support and physician training on Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), an advanced type of radiation therapy, are part of Sun’s latest research project to deliver advanced RT to patients in Uganda. A 2021 Global Incubator Seed Grant from WashU’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy is supporting the project.

Watch this short video clip provided by UCI-TV: Baozhou Sun, associate professor of radiation oncology at Washington University in St. Louis talks more about his project.

Sun says the best part of his team’s visit to Uganda is that the first UCI cancer patients have now successfully received IMRT. This is the first time this level of treatment has been administered at UCI.

Baozhou Sun, at left, and team rally around patient at Uganda Cancer Institute

Due to necessity, the Uganda Cancer Institute previously used antiquated Cobalt radiation equipment to treat cancer patients, whereas, the advanced IMRT completely modernizes the delivery method for patient treatment. UCI physicians say that, in addition to IMRT, the newer, more efficient way of processing patient appointments and treatment involves less wait time, and less anxiety for patients, who often travel for many miles and sleep outside to wait for care.

Cancer patients awaiting treatment in Uganda

Watch this short video clip provided by UCI-TV: R. Kavuma Awusi, MD, a collaborator on the Sun’s project, explains anticipated patient outcomes using current vs. older radiation therapy treatment at Uganda Cancer Institute.

In February, Sun and his WashU colleagues joined forces with the Global Health Center at the Institute for Public Health, the Department of Radiation Oncology, the McDonnell International Scholars Academy and the Brown School to provide oncologists from WashU, Uganda, Mongolia and Guatemala with virtual training sessions on IMRT.

Watch a video clip provided by UCI-TV: Tianyu Zhao, associate professor of radiation oncology at Washington University in St. Louis explains how he and colleague Baozhou Sun helped train staff at Uganda Cancer Institute.

Professor Sun says his project’s goal is to “help deploy advanced radiotherapy in low and middle-income countries in order to advance global health equity and access to high-quality cancer care throughout the world.” He adds that WashU’s global team effort is proving to be very successful, and he hopes this model of treatment can carry over to other parts of the African continent.