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Yale School of Public Health partners with Kazakhstan university on advanced research training to address HIV

November 15, 2023
by Erin Ferrare

The Yale School of Public Health is partnering with Nazarbayev University School of Medicine in Astana, Kazakhstan on an advanced research training program that will support promising scientists and clinicians interested in phylogeny of viruses and molecular epidemiology.

The new program, called MoVE-Kaz for Molecular Virology/Epidemiology Training in Kazakhstan, is funded by a grant from the Fogarty International Center of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The training will provide Kazakh scientists and research clinicians with the necessary skills to help them investigate the spread of HIV in Central Asia and how it is affecting high-risk communities.

The estimated number of people living with HIV infection in Kazakhstan increased by 133% between 2010 to 2020. The increase is in contrast to decreasing HIV incidence outside of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Populations transmitting the infections are poorly understood in Kazakhstan and persons living with HIV lack access to proper health treatments and interventions. The training program is intended to improve HIV disease surveillance capacity and treatment options with better knowledge of resistance patterns in the region.

The mission of the MoVE-Kaz program is to transfer cutting-edge skills to future generations in Kazakhstan.

Dr. Syed Ali, Nazarbayev University School of Medicine

Molecular virology involves the study of virus characteristics and how those traits influence transmission from person to person. It has proven to be effective in characterizing high-risk communities where infections are emerging. Prioritizing such communities for interventions can prevent further disease transmission. Yet, expertise in molecular virology is scarce in Kazakhstan and neighboring countries. The training will focus on the genetic assessment of HIV, as well as epidemiological approaches to research, such as how to design field studies to best sample a population.

“The Yale School of Public Health is proud to be training partners with Nazarbayev University in this exciting endeavor,” said Dr. Sten Vermund, MD, the Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health at the Yale School of Public Health and co-principal investigator for the project. Robert Heimer, professor of epidemiology (microbial diseases) at YSPH is a key partner in the collaboration and has already led an early in-country training course.

The goal of the training program is to create a pool of highly skilled Kazakhstani scientists and clinicians who are knowledgeable about phylogenetic applications and trained by national and international mentors from partner institutions. Other partner institutions associated with the program are: Asfendiyarov Kazakh National Medical University, Almaty, Kazakhstan; Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium; and State University of New York (SUNY)-Downstate, in Brooklyn, NY.

“The mission of the MoVE-Kaz program is to transfer cutting-edge skills to future generations in Kazakhstan,” said Dr. Syed Ali of the Nazarbayev University School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the training initiative. “We must capacitate our young scientists by training them in advanced research skills at par with top world institutions.”

The full training is scheduled to start in early 2024 after the first cohort of Kazakhstani researchers is selected. The core curriculum will be held at Nazarbayev University School of Medicine, but participants will have an opportunity to come to New Haven for three months of targeted virology training. The Fogarty grant will also allow researchers interested in statistical genetics and computational biology to travel to KU Leuven in Belgium to learn under Philippe Lemey, a professor of evolutionary and computational virology with the Rega Institute.

Submitted by Colin Poitras on November 14, 2023