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Professor Teaches Personalized Medicine in Egypt

Author cupharmacy | Publish Date March 13, 2017

Christina Aquilante, PharmD, was struck by many things during a recent trip to Egypt. Foremost was the profound thirst for knowledge displayed by students and health providers who enrolled in Aquilante’s intensive weeklong course on pharmacogenomics.

“It was probably one of the best experiences of my career. The folks just wanted to learn so much,” said, Aquilante, associate professor with CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. “I could have stayed probably 10 hours a day and they would have kept asking questions. They have such dedication and passion for taking care of their pediatric patients.”

The 90 students included practicing pharmacists and physicians as well as medical and pharmacy students. Aquilante taught at Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt (CCHE), which partnered with the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences on the clinical course. Sherif Abouelnaga, MD, and a few other leaders from CCHE, visited CU Anschutz last October and learned about Aquilante’s online certificate program on pharmacogenomics – the study of safe and effective medications that are tailored to a person’s genetic makeup. Abouelnaga asked if Aquilante would be interested in being a visiting professor in Egypt.

“I said sure – I love to teach. They have a sophisticated hospital there and they’d just bought a new machine to do genotyping,” she said. “They are highly motivated to start incorporating genetic makeup into patient care at their institution.”

Aquilante arrived in Cairo in early January and, while enjoying a crash course in Egyptian culture, she launched her course, which had a threefold purpose:

  • Educate providers on pharmacogenomics.
  • Begin a health care sciences academy at CCHE; Aquilante was the academy’s first speaker.
  • Introduce interactive and active learning to the Egyptian students.

While active learning is the norm in CU Anschutz classrooms, Egyptian education is still centered around lectures, Aquilante discovered. “I’d give a lecture and then the students did exercises in teams and then we talked about answers to the case-based scenarios,” she said. “It was really an introduction of interactive and active-learning for them.”

Because world-class clinical personalized medicine and pharmacogenomics education – Aquilante’s course is required for third-year PharmD students – is deeply rooted at CU Anschutz, the expertise of our campus’s researchers and educators is often helpful in developing countries where precision medicine is in its early stages. But it’s not always the case that these nations are short on resources, Aquilante said. In Egypt, for example, the hospital is equipped with sophisticated technology, she said, but it lacked formal education on pharmacogenomics.

“I think my trip speaks to how CU reaches out to all cultures and regions, promoting diversity and education across the world,” Aquilante said. She hopes the groundwork has been laid for an ongoing partnership between Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Cairo pediatric hospital.

Aquilante submitted an abstract about her experience to an education symposium – Pharmacy Education and Collaboration for Global Practice – taking place in Italy this summer. The abstract, which is under consideration for acceptance, details how her trip “not only fostered clinical collaborations with health care providers in Egypt, but it fostered potential research collaborations, too.”

Aquilante returned to Colorado with gifts from appreciative students, photos of the pyramids and other sights around the ancient city of Cairo, as well as 90 new Facebook friends. One of the students said this about Aquilante’s class: “You were fantastic at explaining each of this course, making it easy for us to have new knowledge that we can use in our research and clinical implementation for our patients.”

A formal graduation ceremony, complete with national anthems (Egypt and U.S.), was held for the students at the end of the 30-hour, five-day class. Students literally jumped for joy, Aquilante said, and they celebrated with music, a disco ball and even some dancing. “I wish more people had the opportunity to experience what I, personally, think Muslim culture is all about,” she said. “They were really lovely people – extremely kind and hospitable.”

Christina Aquilante, PharmD, was assisted with her pharmacogenomics course in Egypt by these health care professionals in Cairo: Sherif Kamal, RPh, MSc; Mohamed Nagy, RPh, MSc; Jodie Malhotra, PharmD; Kari Fransom, PharmD, PhD; Manal Zamzam, MD; and Sherif Abouelnaga, MD.

Online Class Coming Up

Christina Aquilante's online course on pharmacogenomics is so popular that she had to offer another session, which begins May 3. For more information or to register, visit www.ucdenver.edu/pharmacy/pgxcertificate