Akinyemi I. Ojesina, M.D., Ph.D.

Cervical cancer kills more than 300,000 middle-aged women a year, and 19 of the 20 nations with the highest death rates are sub-Saharan countries.

Now an international team, including Akinyemi I. Ojesina, M.D., Ph.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham, has published the first comprehensive genomic study of cervical cancers in sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on tumors from 212 Ugandan patients with cervical cancer.

Ojesina is one of five researchers who jointly supervised this work, which was published in Nature Genetics.

“Large-scale genomics studies like this are important,” the co-authors say in the study, “particularly in under-represented ancestry groups, to understand molecular phenotypes of these cancers, which can lead to improved treatment options.”

“This study is novel as the first cervical cancer study in which the majority of patients were positive for HIV — the virus that causes AIDS,” said Ojesina, who is an assistant professor of epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health, an associate scientist with the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB and adjunct faculty investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Huntsville, Alabama. “This allowed identification of genomic features that distinguish HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients.”

“It is also novel,” Ojesina said, “for the identification of unique genomic features associated with the African cohort compared with The Cancer Genome Atlas.” The Cancer Genome Atlas includes genomic analysis of many cancers, including 307 cervical cancer tumors from places other than sub-Saharan Africa.

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