“The Global Senior Scholar Exchange Program (GSSEP) was the first step through which my university began to recognize me and the toxicology field,” says Mohamed Salama, MD, PhD, Mansoura University, Mansoura, Egypt, a 2013 GSSEP Scholar. “This gave me credit to suggest new initiatives that led to more advances in my field of study, e.g., establishing an online degree for toxicology and building a new clinical trial unit.”
Dr. Salama’s exchange with his GSSEP Host Mohamed B. Abou-Donia, PhD, ATS, DABT, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, United States, has led to a fruitful continuing relationship (see sidebar). In addition, Dr. Salama returned to the SOT Awards Ceremony stage in 2016 to accept the Translational/Bridging Travel Award, which recognizes a mid- or senior-level scientist or clinician with an active research program or who currently is active either in the practice of clinical toxicology, medical toxicology, disease prevention, or in the application of translational toxicology.
With its emphasis on increasing toxicology capacity in developing countries by fostering professional relationships with established labs, the GSSEP supports two of SOT’s strategic priorities and objectives: to develop and support toxicologists to capitalize on future opportunities and to foster international toxicology activities. The basic program outline is for a Senior Scholar (from a developing country) to spent about four weeks with an SOT member host in an established lab and then for the host to make a visit to the Scholar’s institution. The GSSEP provides funds for the travel of the Hosts and Scholars between the institutions and to the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo. Since the program’s inception, exchanges have occurred with scholars from Columbia, Egypt, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestine, Thailand, and Tunisia. And often, the exchange extends beyond the initial visits.
Many Host-Scholar pairs have engaged in collaborations, such as publishing papers and joint research projects, after their GSSEP participation. For instance, Drs. Salama and Abou-Donia have published multiple papers together since their exchange.
Beyond the impact for the Scholars in furthering toxicology at their institutions and in their countries, the program is just as meaningful for the Hosts, some of which have hosted more than one scholar over the years. “My personal experience is that the GSSEP exchange is an extremely useful program not only in assisting the Scholar, but also the Host’s feeling of being helpful in spreading SOT’s mission of using toxicological studies to provide a better life, especially in developing countries where toxicologists are trying to help their countries have safe air and water,” shares Dr. Abou-Donia, who also hosted 2016 Scholar Wafa Hassen, PhD, then of the High Institute of Biotechnology, Monastir, Tunisia. Adds Dr. Hassen, “I think my GSSEP experience has been a lifetime opportunity that opened many doors for me. It has had an amazing snowball effect, and its impact on my career continues to grow. I am expanding my network and collaborations with different groups, and nothing has ever been more exciting for me.”
Augustine Arukwe, DSc, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway, also has hosted two Scholars, 2017 Scholar Olufunke Eunice Ola-Davies, DVM, MSc, PhD, and 2018 Scholar Aina Olubukola Adeogun, PhD, both from the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria. “His commitment to capacity building in Nigeria has helped us carry out molecular and chemical analysis of pollutants in our aquatic environment,” Dr. Adeogun says of her Host. In addition to her GSSEP participation this year, Dr. Adeogun and the University of Ibadan have been awarded a grant from Seeding Labs Instrumental Access program for equipment for the lab, which in combination with the lab training is increasing research capacity in Dr. Adeogun’s home lab. The collaboration between the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the University of Ibadan has resulted in more than a dozen peer-reviewed publications.
In addition to the collaboration between Host and Scholar, Host visits also allow participants to engage in lectures and discussions with the students and colleagues of the Scholars. When Hosts Michael Dourson, PhD, DABT, ATS, FSRA, and Bernard K. Gadagbui, MSc, PhD, ERT, DABT, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, traveled to Indonesia to meet with Scholar Sri Noegrohati, DrPharm, Gadjah Mada University and Sanata Dharma University, an additional dimension was to provide a Risk Assessment Boot Camp to increase the skills of participants in a country where few are trained in areas related to risk assessment and environmental regulation. Similarly, Host Judith T. Zelikoff, PhD, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York, United States, joined a team of SOT toxicologists supported by SOT global strategies funding to present not only to the Nigerian students of 2012 Scholar Orish Ebere Orisakwe, PhD, ERT, ATS, MRSC, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria, but as participants in the Third Annual West African Society of Toxicology International Conference, held in conjunction with the University of Lagos. They also were interviewed on a radio station that had a listening audience of 16 million people.
The impact of the GSSEP has been apparent on three continents and within 12 countries around the world. It continues to provide collaboration opportunities for participants and has had a significant impact on SOT participation from the developing world. As Dr. Zelikoff shares, “I asked Orish what he wanted to gain from this experience, and he said, ‘Everything.’ One of his priorities, however, was collaborations. Only through these collaborative interactions will they have the opportunity to publish in ‘good journals’ and carry out ‘cutting-edge experiments using the latest technology.’ I am glad to say Orish left with at least two solid collaborations, as well as with air sampling apparatus for air pollution measurements [which were returned and processed]. …Graduate students wanted to go there and help. One student is now engaged in a community outreach project with me to make up flyers and information sheets that will be distributed to Nigerian residents by Orish concerning metal pollutants, their health effects, and possible intervention strategies.”
Toxicologists in developing countries should note the upcoming June 15 GSSEP Scholar application deadline. Once the two Scholars are selected (usually by mid-July), Hosts are invited to apply by September 15. The Host/Scholar pairings are announced in October/November and are awarded each year with $15,000: $10,000 in travel support for the Scholar and $5,000 in travel support for the Host. While the application process is competitive, all interested parties are encouraged to apply for this program. It is a wonderful opportunity to impact toxicology in both the developed and developing world: “I believe GSSEP is better described as a ‘Stimulating Program,’” says Dr. Salama. “It stimulates toxicologists to believe in their potential and work to achieve a bigger target.”
EDITOR’S SIDEBAR: GSSEP Profile: Scholar Mohamed Salama
2013 GSSEP Scholar
2014 IBRO ARC funds to return to Duke
2014–2018 Host Dr. Abou-Donia lectures annually at two Egyptian neuroscience schools
2015 Mansoura University Grants to work on conjoint project for detection of autoantibodies as biomarkers for brain injury
2016 SOT Translational/Bridging Award
2016 Drs. Salama and Abou-Donia receive major Egyptian multi-year grant to study autoantibodies as biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease (JESOR-D)
2018 Named director of the Medical Experimental Research Center (MERC) of Mansoura University, executive committee member of IBRO-MENA, and Atlantic Fellow for Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) [UCSF-TCD]
2019 Anticipates first class for a post-graduate diploma in neurotoxicology at Mansoura University