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

Group of students at Egypt hospital
About 90 attendees participated in the pharmacogenomics program taught by Christina Aquilante in Cairo, Egypt, in January.

“It was one of the best experiences of my career. The folks just wanted to learn so much,” said, Aquilante, associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences 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.”

Christina Aquilante of CU Anschutz
Christina Aquilante, PharmD, University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

The 90 attendees 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 use of a person’s genetic makeup to inform the safe and effective use of medications. Abouelnaga asked if Aquilante would be interested in delivering the program live in Egypt.

Threefold purpose for visit

Pyramids of Egypt
Christina Aquilante did some sightseeing while in Egypt, including an excursion to see the pyramids outside Cairo.

“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 the live training program, which had a threefold purpose:

  • Educate providers on pharmacogenomics.
  • Serve as the first program for CCHE’s new Health Care Sciences Academy.
  • Introduce active and practice-based learning to the Egyptian participants.

A team effort

Christina Aquilante, PharmD, was assisted with her pharmacogenomics course in Egypt by these health care professionals in Cairo and faculty at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences: Sherif Kamal, RPh, MSc; Mohamed Nagy, RPh, MSc; Jodie Malhotra, PharmD; Kari Fransom, PharmD, PhD; Manal Zamzam, MD; and Sherif Abouelnaga, MD.

While active learning is the norm in CU Anschutz classrooms, Egyptian education is still centered around didactic lectures, Aquilante discovered. “To change the dynamic, I’d give a lecture and then the attendees 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 practice-based learning for them.”

Because world-class clinical personalized medicine and pharmacogenomics education – Aquilante’s course is required for all 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 the providers lack formal education on pharmacogenomics.

CU reaches out to all

“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.

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/continuingeducation

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 has been accepted as an oral presentation at the symposium, 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 attendees, photos of the pyramids and other sights around the ancient city of Cairo, as well as 90 new Facebook friends. One of the attendees said this about Aquilante’s class: “You were fantastic at explaining 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 was held for the attendees at the end of the 30-hour, five-day program. Participants literally jumped for joy, Aquilante said, and they celebrated with music, disco lights and even some dancing. “I wish more people had the opportunity to experience what I, personally, think Egyptian culture is all about,” she said. “They were really lovely people – extremely kind and hospitable.”