Each year, University of Colorado Cancer Center hosts high school students from the Denver metro area in a day of learning to ignite their interest in the biomedical fields — specifically cancer research.

One hundred thirty students from Cherokee Trail High School, Kent Denver School, Hinkley High School, Ralston Valley High School and Aurora Central High School participated in February 2018.

The students learned the basics of cancer biology, latest advances in clinical care and the reasons there is no such thing a safe tan.

John Tentler, PhD, CU Cancer Center's associate director for education talks to students about cancer biology

John Tentler, PhD, CU Cancer Center’s associate director for education talks to students about cancer biology

“Part of the mission of the University of Colorado Cancer Center is education,” says John Tentler, PhD, associate director for education at CU Cancer Center. “Each year, we are rejuvenated by the enthusiasm of these high school kids and we are encouraged about the future of cancer research because they ask such great questions.”

In addition to the lecture sessions, the students took tours of ten cancer research laboratories on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.  The focus of each lab is different but all are dedicated to answering questions about cancer. Students toured Tentler’s lab where researchers do pre-clinical studies focused on finding more effective drugs with fewer toxic side effects to treat advanced colorectal cancer.

The students touring the lab of Michael Graner, PhD, were able to see a human brain and the images taken of brain tumors before and after treatment. Graner’s research focus is immunology and biology of brain tumors.

“Many of the physicians and scientists share their expertise with the students year after year,” says Jill Penafiel, CU Cancer Center’s education manager. “It is one of the most rewarding parts of my job showing these students all the career possibilities in cancer research and clinical care.”

One of the most emotional parts of the day is the panel discussion after lunch. This year the panel included two young breast cancer survivors, a medical oncologist and a genetic c

Michael Graner, PhD, CU Cancer Center investigator gives students a short overview of brain tumors

Michael Graner, PhD, CU Cancer Center investigator gives students a short overview of brain tumors

ounselor.

Students spent about an hour asking questions about cancer treatments, effects of those treatments on survivors, and what it feels like to receive a cancer diagnosis. Sarah Chase-McCrorie told them the fear involving her cancer never really goes away.

“It’s the second or third thing I think about when I wake up,” says Chase-McRorie, a breast cancer survivor of nearly five years. “It’s not the first thing I think of anymore.”

Students also wanted to know what it takes to become a physician. Anosheh Afghahi,MD, recommended doing well in school. But she emphasizes more than that.

“Every time you open a door, or enter a room, you are exposed to a different world,” says Afghahi. “Expose yourself to as much as possible. There is great reward in helping patients achieve their goals while they are still able and being a part of something bigger than yourself.”