Research Experience in Cancer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital

I had never saw myself working in a wet lab. When I started looking for labs to work in, I wasn’t sure what exactly I was looking for in doing research. I just knew that I wanted to be able to apply what I’ve learned in my class to apply it in a real-world setting. I also at that point was interested in doing research to improve treatments or find treatments for existing illnesses. I was pretty much interested in anything and everything so I stated reaching out to many professors and researchers in the Columbus area in hopes of entering a lab. The first researcher to get back to me was Dr. Chang who has a lab in the Nationwide Research Institute Center of Cancer and Blood Diseases. I accepted the position as an undergraduate research student. I’ve learned a lot since last year; about myself and about cancer. My project was based on testing a treatment with a drug by the name of Rocaglamide and Didismethylrocaglamide on Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor cells and Benign Meningioma cells.

My understanding of the science world changed while completing my STEP Signature Project. I started out very clueless about what research entailed. I thought it was scientists sitting in a lab together just pipetting chemicals from one flask to another. I originally thought it would be more competitive and individual than it was. I truly found out how collaborative basic science can be and how it’s about the team and not just one person. I learned from my principal investigator, Dr. Chang form his story that even if you have 1 good scientist in the lab, it doesn’t mean anything if he isn’t willing to share his talents with others in the lab or work with anyone. I saw science as being more collaborative and have carried this mindset on to my classes and my organizations where I help to become a peer that is truly a team player. I truly have learned to become a team player in my lab experiences working with other undergraduate researchers and also senior scientists in the laboratory.

Another assumption of my world that changed is that I didn’t realize how intertwined clinical and laboratory science were. I saw the “behind-the-scenes” work I was doing in lab and how it pertained to clinical experience by participating in tumor boards. Tumor Boards were meetings at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Hematology and Oncology Unity designed to talk about interesting cases and get perspectives from cancer researchers, physicians, therapists, genetic counselors, and nurses on what to do for these cases. I thought it was interesting because in my lab work, I was doing very detailed work in that I was focusing on a specific drug of a specific tumor that targets a specific protein. I didn’t realize how my findings played out in the larger picture and going to those tumor boards and hearing my principal investigator discuss what we were doing and the drugs we used in lab, and the clinical trials he had me read to the physicians, it made me see how it was all intertwined with one another. I truly saw the value of what I was doing in lab and how it played out in the clinic. I also saw how findings in the clinic influence what we do in the lab. In that there was a tumor presented that was very strange and my principal investigator suggested it be sent back to the lab to be tested for different amplified genes to be able to look for a drug that could reduce the tumor in the patient. My view of research changed in that I didn’t see a linear timeline of research to clinical, I saw that they were side by side and connected to one another. I think it truly influenced what my future career plans in the future look like and how I want to be able to use laboratory science in my future clinical practice.

Another way I have transformed is in my habits. I was not what you call a planner, I tend to do things on the fly but doing research has taught me to become more of a planner. I’ve gotten a lot better at my time-management skills I found quickly that it was what you make of it and it’s a process you must keep improving yourself and continually keep refining your techniques. Even though I learned something once, it doesn’t mean I get to stop at that point. Research is a process you must always challenge yourself to get better at even if you know a protocol to an experiment step-by step. I got really impatient in that I wanted to jump right in lab and do experiments for the first few months and would get bored of observing, but I soon found out that not everything was as easy as it looked. I learned to look for specific details and ask questions pertaining to those details. I never used to be a detail-oriented person, but being in a laboratory setting, I now think of everything that I need to know to do an experiment that I should ask when observing. My principal investigator always told me to watch carefully and to ask more detailed questions, and learning to do so helped me not only in lab but in classes when I have to learn detailed concepts. You have to constantly review and learn from your protocols to get better. I also learned to be patient in that when my experiments would fail, I learned to retrace my steps and find what was wrong instead of just redoing my experiment again without changing a thing. This later helped me when in other areas of my life to revaluate what I have done wrong in classes and made me a more patient person in general. My creativity was tested. In finding what was wrong, I had to think about how I could improve or when I was lead to a dead end, I had to think about other options I could try. Working in Dr. Chang’s lab, I had to learn to ask questions carefully and be proactive of everything that could go wrong in my own experiments when observing the more senior members do experiments in lab.

At the end of the semester, I had to present at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. It was honestly very scary. Presenting has never been my strongest area. It makes me nervous because I’m afraid I’ll get something wrong. Presenting at the Denman was overwhelming but definitely a worthwhile experience. I learned about ways I can feel more prepared in presenting. I enjoyed seeing how hard my friends have worked. I also enjoyed sharing about my research because it felt like a long school project that I worked very hard on.

As a student researcher, it was easy for me to get caught up in the menial tasks and the experiments that I did daily. Putting the poster together, I saw the larger picture of what I was doing. I saw that it was important to stay grounded to why I’m doing what I do. To eventually treat patients. I saw this in action as I went to more tumor boards at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I saw how research translated to the clinic with treatment of patients. How research helped characterize and plan treatments for patients.

It changed my career plans because I didn’t want to do research as a physician before but now I’m thinking about incorporating it into my education. I plan to apply to medical school in this upcoming summer and will look at schools with strong research focused program. I’m continuing to do research in cancer at Ohio State and I am presenting my further findings at the Undergraduate Research Festival.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *