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Interview With Committee on Promoting Diversity Member Solomon Ofori Acquah, MD

ASH Diversity Programs staff recently spoke with Dr. Solomon Ofori-Acquah, former member of ASH’s Committee on Promoting Diversity and a mentor with the Minority Medical Student Award Program (MMSAP) about his research in Ghana with sickle cell disease (SCD) patients. Dr. Ofori-Acquah is an associate professor of Medicine (Hem/Onc) and the Human Genetics Director at the Center for Translational and International Hematology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Vascular Medicine Institute. He was recently awarded a $5.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish the Sickle Cell Disease Genomics Network of Africa (SickleGenAfrica).

Who or what led you to your interest in SCD research?

I became aware of SCD for the first time in junior high school in Ghana, when I was told by an orthopedic surgeon attending to me after a car accident that I was a “sickler.” I protested immediately because I knew I was not frequently sick, which is what I thought he meant. I learned subsequently that the term sickler is used to indicate positivity for a laboratory screen for the sickle cell mutation. My second experience with the disease was in London, when one of my friends died from complications of a sickle cell crisis.

What is one thing about SCD patients in Ghana (or Cameroon, Nigeria, or Tanzania) that you hope to bring awareness to?

The feedback I get from my physician colleagues, and from first-hand experience, is that patients in Africa and in South America are very keen to participate in clinical trials.

What advice do you have for an underrepresented minority trainee who would like to like to study SCD or study it globally? How might an early-career trainee get involved in global research?

Start early and build your network of mentors and collaborators. Find out the major unsolved public health and clinical issues related to SCD in the global health arena, and then plan your research to focus on local issues. There is an R25 research education program based at the University of Pittsburgh that has an international internship option available for early-career trainees interested in SCD in Africa. Institutional and extramural travel fellowships and pilot grants offer opportunities to foster collaborations with sickle cell clinics in Africa.