DENVER – Race for the Cure, No Shave November, and St. Baldrick’s are just a few of the dozens of events in Denver every year meant to raise awareness and money to fight certain diseases. But not many donors or participants get a chance to see how the money their raised is being put to work.
Two middle school hockey players – and St. Baldrick’s head shavers – recently got the chance to tour a cancer lab at the University of Colorado Medical School to see how the money they raised is being put together in the fight against childhood cancer.
This summer, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation funded two summer research fellows at the medical school. Sarah Slack and Arushi Raval are both trying to find weaknesses in certain cancer cells that could make them vulnerable to new drugs.
“I liked the idea of a pediatric neuro-oncology because I’m not much older than some of these kids,” Sarah said. “If we can figure out what proteins and molecular drivers there are, we can treat it better.”
“I'm specifically looking at a gene in leukemia called MLL2 (Mixed Lineage Leukemia 2) and how knocking out how that gene effects leukemia cell survival,” Arushi explained.
The work is personal for Arushi.
“My childhood best friend was actually diagnosed with brain cancer,” she said, adding that her best friend of 21 years is now her college roommate at the University of Colorado. “I think the younger you get involved in projects like this, the more you can see the impact in the future.”
Sarah knows the work she’s done during her 10-week fellowship is just a drop in the bucket in the fight against childhood cancer, but it’s an important one.
“It's cool to be able to make a difference before I have that graduate or medical degree,” the University of Washington student explained.
While Sarah and Arushi only worked on their research for a few weeks, those who do it full-time say every bit helps when it comes to finding the next big breakthrough in pediatric cancer research.
“The bulk effect of all these students and all the contributions … you know we can tick off several tumors that are now not a concern that people won't have to worry about any more,” investigator Dr. Patricia Ernst said.
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is the largest private fundraiser of childhood cancer research.