Angel Ajtum-Sanchez slowly, carefully injects RNA encoding green fluorescent protein into zebra fish embryos in the David Ransom Lab at Oregon Health & Science University. Later he examines the embryos under a microscope to see if the embryos' development has been affected.
Ajtum-Sanchez, 18, looks like a typical teenager: short with spiked, black hair, thin, jeans, sweatshirt and running shoes. But two years ago, he couldn't speak English. And he had never looked through a microscope. Ajtum-Sanchez came to this country two years ago from Guatemala. His father, Daniel Ajtum, a farm worker, wanted his son to be educated in the United States. Ajtum-Sanchez was sent to live with his cousins in north Portland. He will be senior at Roosevelt High School this fall.
He learned about different opportunities for high schoolers during an OHSU educational tour last school year. He also met Pam Racansky, M.A., program coordinator for the Center for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (CeDMA) that day. Ajtum-Sanchez applied to be part of the OHSU CURE Project, a joint program of the OHSU Cancer Institute and CeDMA. He and seven other diverse and academically successful students were accepted. They will be working in OHSU labs through Aug. 19. The students are paid, which helps Ajtum-Sanchez because he has to support himself.
"I am so excited to work in this lab. It is so wonderful. I am also so excited to be working with my peers because they help me so much. They are magnificent people. I am glad and proud to part of the CURE project. I am learning a lot about cloning RNA and DNA. My dad is so proud of me. He said he didn't know how I would do here. Now he says I am doing a great job. One thing that helped me so much has been my desire to study."
"We have a lot of hard-working students that we come in contact with during the year. But we noticed that Angel has this presence about him from the first time we met him. He's always sincerely interested and always desires to learn more to further his career interests. Besides being one of the nicest people I know, Angel is one of the most hard working and dedicated. I know he is going to be successful in his life and career and bring that experience and knowledge back to his community," Racansky said.
Ajtum-Sanchez wants to become a physician to help people suffering from disease here and in his native country.
Like a lot of teens he wears different colored elastic wristbands. The purple one signifies Hope for Cancer: " I hope someday someone will find a cure for cancer because I know there are many people who suffer from it."
The black wristband he wears just because he likes it, he said.
The CURE Project is a summer program of research. It is designed to offer research experience to a selected group of Oregon high school juniors from socially and economically disadvantaged populations from the Portland-metropolitan area The long-term goal of this program is to increase participation of underserved and minority students in biomedical research and other health-related programs. Students will work in research laboratories under the guidance of an OHSU scientists conducting cancer research for a minimum of eight weeks. They are expected to create two formal reports, one on their mentors work and another on their own research. In addition to their own lab work, students will attend weekly seminars on a range of scientific and ethical issues in various areas of biomedical research.
There are about 150 students in various programs or just working with an OHSU mentor. Some of the summer programs offered at OHSU to area students include:
* YO Science (Your Opportunity in Science): The Center for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs offers a one-week summer camp at OHSU from July 25 to 29 for about 40 underrepresented minority and disadvantaged middle school students interested in pursuing health or science careers. This free program provides students opportunities to explore various health care professions, gain hands-on medical and science experience and enhance their knowledge of math and science.
* HAMS (Healthcare Adventures in Medicine and Science): The Center of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs conducts a free, one-week enrichment program planned for Aug. 8 to 12, for undergraduate college students interested in health and science careers. The program's goal is to identify and nurture college students, and to explore health care and science professions while gaining hands-on medical and science experience at OHSU.
Selected students will have opportunities to meet with health care and science professionals, and attend classes similar to OHSU's professional and graduate programs. Classes and workshops emphasize competitiveness, application, interview, and academic preparation for a career in health science.
* Summer Internship Program in Neuroscience: This 10-week program allows 12 undergraduate and high school students to participate in research at the OHSU Neurological Sciences Institute.
* Partnership in Scientific Inquiry: Seven students will be testing chemoprotection against chemotherapy and radiotherapy-induced cytotoxicity and neurotoxicity from June through August. The program introduces high school students to the processes of science and encourages student participation in national science competitions. Students begin in the spring by researching a science topic with their mentors and completing a research proposal. Students then may continue working on their research in the summer with their mentors.
* Partners in Science: A biology teacher from Sheridan High School will be investigating intraovarian actions of androgens in macaque monkeys. The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust funds the program.
* Murdock Scholars: This program brings in students from eight Portland-area schools including Concordia University, George Fox University, Lewis and Clark College, Linfield College, Pacific University, University of Portland, Warner Pacific College, and Willamette University. This summer the program has 12 students. They will be working on various areas of research.
* Reed College/Vollum Institute Undergraduate program: Two students are Vollum-Reed Summer Fellows and are studying the mechanisms of host cell restriction of HIV replication.
* Saturday Academy's Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering twenty-three high school apprentices participate in the program for eight weeks during the summer at OHSU OGI School of Medicine, OHSU School of Science & Engineering, the OHSU Oregon National Primate Research Center and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. An end-of-summer symposium is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 20, at 9 a.m. in the Smith Center Ballroom, Portland State University, where the apprentices will give poster presentations and 12-minute talks about their summer experiences. Saturday Academy is a self-supported program of Portland State University and OHSU.