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Teens Learn What It's Like To Be A Real Cancer Researcher

Many teens this summer are hanging out at the local pool, working at the local coffee place or lounging about the house.

But not Selam Kidane, Adiana Wilmot, Alex Perepechaev and Trang Truong.

They are working full time in research laboratories at the Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute. They are part of the Continuing the Umbrella Research Experience (CURE) project, an eight-week summer program that offers research mentorship and training in collaboration with the OHSU Center for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. It offers research experiences to talented students from socially and economically disadvantaged populations in the Portland metropolitan area.

“Why this program is important is that it about offers opportunities to inspire students in our community to pursue careers in science,” said Brian Druker, M.D., director of the OHSU Cancer Institute.

Here are their stories:

Selam Kidane, 17, a senior at De La Salle North Catholic High School, Portland is working with William Fleming’s,  M.D., Ph.D., in his lab on the hepatocyte (liver cells that secrete bile) cells of mice. She is cutting and staining tissue and learning to use the microscope. She wants to be an obstetrician and someday work in Eritrea in northeast Africa, her parents’ home country.

"My parents didn’t have this chance. They have taught me to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to me. I have always wanted to be a doctor. I love to make people happy. I one day hope to return back to my home country Eritrea and practice medicine,” Selam said.

Adiana Wilmot, 17, a senior at Grant High School, Portland, is helping to develop a protocol that will allow women in the Portland metro area to donate their umbilical cord blood at the time they are delivering their babies. The cords will be stored in a public cord blood bank for future use for patients needing bone marrow or stem cell transplants.

Adiana  shadows Eneida Nemecek, M.S., M.D., a pediatric oncologist at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital during clinical rounds with her young patients. Adiana wants to be a pediatrician.

“I have always liked working with little kids. I want to help make them better,” she said.

Alex Perepechaev, 17, a senior at Madison High School, Portland, is working in the lab of Joshi Alumkal, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine. Alex is growing cancer cells, which he is treating with different drugs to see the effect on gene re-expression and cell survival.

Alex was born in Russia and came to America when he was a baby. He said his parents are encouraging him to have a career in health care because he would be doing something really important with his life.

“Yes, something important, like doing research and finding a drug that would help people, maybe save their lives,” he said.

Trang Truong, 17, a senior at Century High School, Hillsboro, is working in the lab of Michael Deininger, M.D., PhD, OHSU School of Medicine, on a chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) project, where she analyzes the DNA expression of proteins in cells and their role in CMML proliferation.

Trang anticipates that her CURE experience will prepare her for her dream of being a cardiothoracic surgeon. She plans to be the first in her immediate family to become a doctor and to participate in Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders. Trang hopes to deliver medical aid and lifesaving treatments to people in need, especially those living in Third World countries.

“I’m really good at math and science, and I am doing everything that will help me achieve my goal,” she said.

Besides giving outstanding students hands-on research experience and science exposure to increase their knowledge of biomedical research and other health-related careers, the students also receive career information, college information, academic counseling and are monitored as they continue throughout their college years.  The goal is for them to enter OHSU academic programs.

The program ends Aug. 17 with the presentation of the students’ projects to researchers and others in  the OHSU Cancer Institute.

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Particulars: Druker is the JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research at the Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.


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