Centre for Cancer Biomarkers


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Oral cancer in Sudan

CCBIO PI Anne Christine Johannessen recently returned from a site visit in Sudan to follow up on a longstanding collaboration on oral cancer between Bergen and Khartoum. We asked her to tell us a little about the collaboration.

Dentist and patient in the clinic.
Clinical investigation of a patient referred to Khartoum Teaching Dental Hospital with suspicion of oral cancer.
Anne Christine Johannessen


Very long-term collaboration

"One of my first and most stimulating travels I did as Vice-Rector for International Affairs at University of Bergen (UiB), was to celebrate 50 years of collaboration with the University of Khartoum (UoK) in 2013. The collaboration started with social anthropology, but was followed by several other research areas, among those dentistry and oral health. This collaboration started in the eighties, and was boosted by the new possibilities for financing of PhD candidates through the quota program. Thus, more than ten doctoral theses have been produced from candidates from Sudan, financed through this program, and currently three PhD candidates in our research group are Sudanese. In addition to the University of Khartoum, we collaborate with the University of Science and Technology (UST), which is a very young university that has also established an exchange program for dental students at UiB, where students get a unique opportunity to meet a very different disease panorama compared with what they meet at home.

The toombak problem

Oral cancer is a big burden in Sudan, mainly related to use of the smokeless tobacco, toombak, which has been shown to contain at least 100-fold higher concentrations of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNA) than the Scandinavian snuff, and the highest levels of nicotine and TSNA ever measured in tobacco products globally. The use of toombak is deeply rooted in the society, making it difficult to convince the people to quit using the snuff.

Our research collaboration has focused primarily on biomedical studies on tissue, but during our stay in Khartoum in March this year, Hatim Mohammed Almahdi defended the first thesis within dentistry from UST: Socio-behavioral Aspects of Toombak use Among Secondary School Students, School Workers and Health Professions Students in Khartoum State, Sudan. The work was done in collaboration with UiB, and is a confirmation of the systematic building of competence of the personnel at UST and collaboration between the two universities.

Build local competence

Our goal with this collaboration is not only research, but also competence building. By training Sudanese PhD candidates at UiB, the goal is to build up a platform of research competence in their home country, which may make the collaboration between our universities even stronger. We also aim to focus on research that may have direct implications for their fight against oral cancer. One example is validation of an electronic device as a diagnostic and prognostic tool for oral cancer in rural areas."