Two School of Medicine Faculty Named Fulbright Scholars

Lawrence David, PhD, associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology, and Melanie Thomas, MD, associate professor of medicine, have been named Fulbright Scholars for the 2024-2025 academic year. The Fulbright Scholars Program awards fellowships to faculty, administrators, and other professionals to teach, research, and conduct professional projects for up to one year in more than 135 different countries. 

The Double Burden of Undernutrition and Obesity 

David will spend the year in the Philippines addressing the double burden of malnutrition where undernutrition and obesity coexist. He has developed a DNA sequencing-based tool called FoodSeq to track food intake to help better understand the links between diet and health in the Philippines. FoodSeq uses DNA sequencing to amplify and sequence plant and animal DNA from human stool.  

“By tailoring this tool to the Filipino diet,” David said, “we aim to capture accurate dietary data and explore how different food patterns affects health outcomes like stunting and obesity.” He hopes to be able to provide clear dietary recommendations and interventions to improve public health. 

David’s project will also foster inter-institutional connections between Filipino institutions and Duke University to ensure that local researchers will be able to continue these efforts after David’s Fulbright project has ended. 

Meeting a Need for Oncologists in Nepal 

Thomas, a medical oncologist with the Duke Cancer Network, will use her Fulbright to spend five months in Dharan, Nepal, helping a colleague at the B.P. Khoirala Institute of Health Sciences start a new oncology fellowship program.  Thomas learned of the great need for oncology training in the country through her volunteer work with a non-governmental organization called Health Volunteers Overseas. Though she began volunteering with that organization in 2011, her connection to Nepal started just a year ago when she began participating in a weekly tumor board with a cancer center in in Kathmandu.  

“There are currently only five fellowship-trained medical oncologists in Nepal, which has a population close to 30 million people,” she said. “A year ago, the only oncology training program in the country closed due to retirement of the program director.” 

Since then, Thomas has been working with her colleague in Nepal to help her start a new training program. The pair will create a program that will include talks, interactive cases, a schedule of training rotations, and an evaluation process. The program received approval for one trainee, and Thomas will serve as the trainee’s preceptor in the Nepal clinic. She hopes the program will be approved for more slots next year.  

She also plans to conduct research while there. “I would like to do a pilot study of genomics in unusual tumors seen in young people in Nepal,” she said.