International Collaborative Brings Health Researchers to Princeton

Written by
Aimee Bronfeld, Center for Health and Wellbeing
Nov. 9, 2022

Graduate students from Southeast Asia and Australia are on campus this semester to advance research in the areas of pediatric brain cancer treatment and antimicrobial resistance. Doctoral candidates Vu Thi Quynh Giao and Nguyen Vinh Nam from Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) in Hanoi, Vietnam, and Stephen Dymock from the University of Western Australia/Telethon Kids Institute (TKI) in Perth, Australia are visiting Princeton University through the International Health Research Collaboration, a new exchange program sponsored by the School of Public and International Affairs and the Center for Health and Wellbeing (CHW).

The initiative invites foreign undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and other researchers from CHW partner institutions to Princeton for a semester. While here, scholars have opportunities to innovate, present their work, audit courses, and integrate into the broader health-focused community at Princeton.

“The Center for Health and Wellbeing has a long history of collaborating with research institutions around the world. Princetonians regularly travel overseas for internships and research projects and bring lessons back to the United States,” stated Gilbert Collins, director of global health programs and associate director of CHW. Over the past few years, OUCRU and TKI alone have hosted 43 Princeton students through CHW’s Internships in Global Health Program.

“This new endeavor allows us to reciprocate, making it possible for international students and stakeholders, often from developing countries, to benefit from Princeton’s vibrant research community and to bring lessons back home with them in turn,” added Collins.

Fall 2022 Visiting Scholars

This semester’s participating scholars come to Princeton with accomplished backgrounds and ambitious pursuits, in terms of their research and careers.

Vu Thi Quynh Giao

Vu Thi Quynh Giao is a Ph.D. candidate and lead researcher at OUCRU, where she investigates issues related to farming in northern Vietnam. Her doctoral research project targets the use of antibiotics among the country’s food-animal farmers. Particularly, she counters the narrative of universal antibiotic overuse across Vietnamese agriculture, citing usage variations in northern and southern regions, and explores alternative strategies for ensuring biosecurity and limiting the transmission of resistant bacteria, such as changes in land management.

During her time at Princeton, Giao is developing quantitative skills for analyzing data that she has collected on agricultural antibiotic utilization and resistance. The data will support her dissertation as well as her interest in public policy, for which statistics are essential. Under the mentorship of Ramanan Laxminarayan, senior research scholar and lecturer at High Meadows Institute, and Simon Levin, James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, she is learning how to use mathematical models to explain what drives antibiotic use and resistance on farms. At the same time, she is immersing herself in Princeton’s rich offering of public lectures to get a glimpse of how political philosophy plays out in the U.S. realm of public policy.

“Having a philosophical mind and the technical research skills to help others might serve as solid ground for a possible career in public policy,” she said. “Ultimately, I would like to see more truth, justice, and compassion in Vietnamese society.”

Nguyen Vinh Nam

Nguyen Vinh Nam, a Ph.D. candidate who is also based at OUCRU, is fascinated by the challenges of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) within the Vietnamese health care system. His doctoral research studies the feasibility of implementing pharmacy-targeted interventions against AMR.

At Princeton, Nam is auditing courses that inspire him to think critically and creatively about decision-making in health care, considering the impact of social, political, and economic factors. Furthermore, he is strengthening his data analysis skills for dissertation research and future projects. Nam’s faculty sponsor is CHW Co-Director Janet Currie, Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, whose work has inspired his career path. He is particularly interested in how Currie applies economic principles to children’s health and wellbeing, health insurance expansion, and environmental threats to physical and mental health.

“It is not easy to neglect the huge burdens of antibiotic overuse when you are living in one of the worldwide hotspots of AMR,” he said. “I believe this exchange program will enhance my knowledge and research capacity, enabling me to contribute more to the improvement of pharmacy practice and the development of future interventions against AMR in Vietnam.”

Stephen Dymock

Stephen Dymock is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Western Australia, where he is based in the Oncogenic Signalling Laboratory at the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre. His doctoral project aims to determine a safer and more efficacious treatment for diffuse midline glioma, the deadliest form of childhood brain cancer.

Several recent revolutionary studies have shown that brain cancer cells can integrate themselves into neural networks and supercharge brain cancer growth, which has led to the rapidly emerging field of ‘cancer neuroscience.” Dymock is therefore auditing a graduate-level neuroscience course while visiting Princeton to gain better insight into the crucial interaction of neurons with brain cancer cells. Furthermore, he is working under the mentorship of cancer researcher Yibin Kang, Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology, to learn novel lab technologies that he can apply to his own doctoral project.

“The knowledge I gain will be extremely beneficial to my research, allowing me to identify the most appropriate drug candidates for childhood brain cancer,” he noted. “Hopefully, these findings will lead to safer, more effective treatment for diffuse midline glioma.”