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Simple test for identifying childhood leukemia in Kenya goal of Indiana and Moi University cancer doctors

Terry Vik, M.D., associate professor of clinical pediatrics, has been awarded one of three epidemiology awards from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. Dr. Vik is the principal investigator for the two-year award for $199,000.

The research is a joint project of Indiana University and the AMPATH Oncology Institute in conjunction with Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and the Moi University School of Medicine in Eldoret, Kenya. The IU School of Medicine has a long-standing partnership with Moi University and AMPATH (Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare).

The idea utilizes a common lab test for detecting malaria parasites in a drop of blood. In addition to looking for malaria, the slide also can be studied to detect leukemia cells in the same drop of blood.

“We are trying to improve the detection rate of leukemia in children,” Dr. Vik said. “In western Kenya, only 20 to 30 cases of childhood leukemia are detected each year. Based on the population of children in that area, we would expect to see up to 10 times that number of cases,” he said.

“Our project will test whether it is feasible to use the common malaria laboratory slide test to detect the rare condition of leukemia. If we can do that, then we can train technologists to detect it as well, and arrange for the referral of children to the hospital for treatment in a more expeditious manner,” Dr. Vik said.

Other researchers on the project are Jodi Skiles, M.D., a lecturer in clinical medicine and co-director of the AMPATH Oncology Institute; Ann M. Moormann, Ph.D., MPH, associate professor of pediatric immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Festus Njuguna, M.D., a pediatric oncologist at Moi University School of Medicine.

A pediatric hematology-oncology specialist, Dr. Vik is the medical director for the Childhood Cancer Survivor Program at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health and a member of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.