Center News

Sixth-grade scientists partner with Center researchers to tackle cancer

Aided by six Hutchinson Center 'doctor partners,' local grade schoolers explore possible cancer cures, visit campus

May 29, 2012
Dutch Hill Elementary School students

During their May 11 field trip, the students met their mentors, learned about lab safety, looked at different kinds of cells under a microscope, practiced pipetting, and extracted strawberry DNA in the Center's specially designed training lab.

Photo by Alex Snyder

Budding sixth-grade scientists from Snohomish's Dutch Hill Elementary School recently spent the day on the Hutchinson Center campus, the culmination of a yearlong exploratory partnership with Center researchers.

Last September, Alex Snyder, a Dutch Hill teacher, challenged his 11- and 12-year-old students to brainstorm and identify cancer cures. To keep it real-world relevant, six Hutchinson Center researchers volunteered to advise the children on their quest:

  • Dr. Seth Pollack (Yee Lab, Clinical Research Division)
  • Dr. Zhongua Lu (Buck Lab, Basic Sciences Division)
  • Dr. Tina Albershardt (Kemp Lab, Human Biology Division)
  • Dr. Ted Brasky (Cancer Prevention Program, Public Health Sciences Division)
  • Amanda Frey (Yee Lab, Clinical Research)
  • Emily Knouf (Tewari Lab, Human Biology)

Throughout the school year, the students emailed their "doctor partners" monthly, asking questions, getting feedback, and coming up with more ideas. Some of their suggested cures:

"Use coffee, 'cause when kids drink coffee, it stops their growth. I thought if you put it in the cancer, it might stop it from growing."

"I was thinking about bleach. Since bleach is poisonous, if you inject that into the cancer cells, it might kill them."

"What if you somehow made tiny, tiny little robots that could just go and kill off the cancer cells?
"

The idea was not only to get the students thinking but also to inspire the researchers to keep thinking creatively about the vexing problem of cancer. Through the months of mentoring, the research advisers encouraged the kids to think longer and harder about solutions and explained therapeutic roadblocks like toxicity.

Watch the video of the visit

During their May 11 field trip, the students met their mentors, learned about lab safety, looked at different kinds of cells under a microscope, practiced pipetting, and extracted strawberry DNA in the Center's specially designed training lab.

"It's inspirational that there are kids out there who like to think about the world's problems and how they can help," Albershardt said. "We walked away hopeful that our jobs can't be replaced by 12-year-olds!"

Snyder said his students loved the experience from start to finish. "If you give kids an opportunity to learn this stuff, it's truly amazing what comes out of them," he said. "It pushed them really hard, knowing that they had a direct line to making a difference.

"My hat is off to all the researchers. I can't say enough great things about them. They put in a great deal of sincere, thoughtful energy into the project, and it was really nice actually meeting them."

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.