October 18, 2023

UMMS students help launch genetic services partnership in Nepal

Their three-week visit helped set the stage for a collaboration to bolster genetic testing services in the region.

Medical students Sonali Verma, Kelly Beharry, and Gareema Agarwal with UMMS Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics Shane Quinonez and Pratiksha Gyawali (second from left), an Assistant Professor at Kthmandu University Medical School.

Sonali Verma, Kelly Beharry, and Gareema Agarwal spent three weeks in July observing and talking with physicians in Dhulikhel Hospital, near Kathmandu, to begin documenting knowledge, attitudes and needs for genetic testing services. The project is part of a partnership between Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics Shane Quinonez and collaborators at Dhulikhel to introduce basic genetic services there.

“Our purpose was to elicit provider perceptions and attitudes around genetic services. What is their familiarity?  What are the biggest barriers? What conditions do they see most often?” Beharry said. “It was a great introduction conducting a needs assessment, which I’ve never done before. I feel like I learned so much.”

The students, all in their second year, surveyed about 25 physicians across different areas of the hospital. They also had the opportunity to observe care in various departments, as well as at an affiliated rural clinic a few hours away.

“It was insightful to learn what kind of patients they are seeing and how genetics are perceived in Nepal,” Agarwal said. “I’m passionate about preventative medicine and finding ways to help improve outcomes on a larger scale. This project was very in line with my interests.”

Leading the project and overseeing the student team in Nepal is Dr. Pratiksha Gyawali, an Assistant Professor and Clinical Biochemist at the Kathmandu University Medical School.

“Dr. Gyawali is passionate about expanding genetic services in Nepal. Enabling our students to spend time with her in her own setting was a fantastic opportunity,” said Quinonez, MD. “Not only was their work foundational to the partnership goals, but they also were able to learn from an incredible teacher and collaborator.”

Gyawali is expected to visit Michigan Medicine next year as a visiting Matovinovic Clinical Medicine Fellow to keep working on the project—potentially with continued student involvement.

“I plan to stay engaged if possible, both when Dr. Gyawali comes here to Ann Arbor and if we have the opportunity to return to Nepal in the future,” Beharry said. “It was exciting to be involved at an early stage and I know I would like to help see the project through.”