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Sri Lanka's Ambassador Explores Affiliations with UK

As our world continues to become increasingly interconnected via technology, opportunities for universities to collaborate across the globe also are increasing.

On Friday, July 12, the University of Kentucky is hosting a visit by the Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, and his wife, Mrs. Priyanga Wickramasuriya, for the purpose of exploring the development of academic affiliations between UK and one or more universities in Sri Lanka, an island country of just over 20 million people located in the northern Indian Ocean, near India.

Ambassador Wickramasuriya and UK officials hope that discussions will lead to the signing of a memorandum of understanding for joint cancer research projects between UK and the University of Peradeniya and the National Cancer Institute of Sri Lanka and, potentially, opportunities for mutually beneficial education and training programs in the two countries. The partnership may later be extended to include infectious diseases and equine management, or other disciplines related to agriculture and equine science.

The proposed affiliation between institutions in the two countries was initiated at the request of Dr. Frederick de Beer, dean of the UK College of Medicine, with the goal of expanding UK's international outreach program to developing countries in Asia. He requested that Dr. Marcus E. Randall, professor and Markey Foundation Endowed Chair in Radiation Medicine in the UK College of Medicine, and Udeni B.R. Balasuriya, professor of virology at the Gluck Equine Research Center in UK's Department of Veterinary Science in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, establish a link with academic and research institutions in Sri Lanka. Both are scheduled to visit Sri Lanka in August, when they will meet with collaborators and discuss research projects involving UK.

One of the initial projects is a study of the incidence of oral and cervical cancers linked to human papilloma virus (HPV) infection in Sri Lanka. The main goal of this project is to build the capacity to address the high cervical cancer burden in Sri Lanka through both research and education. Scientists from both countries will analyze clinical, epidemiological and virological data to establish correlations between HPV and oral/cervical cancers. Findings from this study will help to implement improved diagnostic, prophylactic (vaccination) and treatment plans to help patients in both countries. Furthermore, residents and medical students from both countries will participate in this research project through an exchange program.

The study will be undertaken in collaboration with W.M. Tilakaratne, professor of oral pathology, Faculty of Dental Sciences, University of Peradeniya, and Dr. Kanishka Karunaratne, director and consultant gynecological oncological surgeon at the National Cancer Institute in Maharagama, Sri Lanka. Markey Cancer Center Director Dr. Mark Evers, Cancer Control Program Associate Director Thomas Tucker, James Graham Brown Endowed Chair and professor of toxicology Daret St. Clair, and Associate Director for Translational Research and Alfred Cohen Chair in Oncology Research Vivek Rangnekar will be UK's key collaborators on this project. The long-term goal is to establish state-of-the-art research and educational programs, which will hopefully attract extramural funding from government and non-government agencies. Ambassador Wickramasuriya's visit to Lexington is designed to formalize these relationships.

UK leadership, including President Eli Capilouto, de Beer, and Dean Scott Smith, of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, have expressed their strong support for this endeavor.

“UK’s international partnerships with leading institutions around the world offer opportunities for our faculty, staff and students to engage in creative discovery with other scholars,” Capilouto said. “Potential collaborations between UK and the National Cancer Institute of Sri Lanka can yield breakthroughs in science that impact the quality of treatment at home and abroad.”

Wickramasuriya expressed his enthusiasm for this cooperative undertaking.

"I commend the University of Kentucky for its thoughtful and timely efforts to initiate academic partnerships with universities in Sri Lanka," he said. "Joint cancer research and other collaborative opportunities will not only build educational and training capabilities, but these projects also have tremendous potential to benefit the lives of many people."

Capilouto will host a luncheon for Ambassador and Mrs. Wickramasuriya at Maxwell Place on Friday. The ambassador will then meet with representatives from the Markey Cancer Center and other campus officials before taking a tour of Keeneland Race Course and Ashford Stud.

Students from more than 100 countries, including Sri Lanka, attend the University of Kentucky. And, the number of UK students participating in study abroad programs is growing at a steady pace.