Fellowship Program Creates Next Generation of Cancer Fighters


By Susan Moran

The CU Cancer Center’s Cancer Research Summer Fellowship is designed to inspire and train the next generation of medical scientists.

Each summer, the fellowship accepts about 45 students—most of them undergraduates, along with a few high school students and medical students–from a pool of roughly 180 applicants nationwide. It’s as rigorous as it is competitive, and it’s a far cry from the university biology or chemistry classroom.

“They’re doing real science. This is not summer camp,” says John Tentler, PhD, director of the program and an associate professor in the Division of Medical Oncology at CU School of Medicine. “No flip flops, no strolling in at ten o’clock.”

The students join a lab or clinical research program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, the University of Colorado Boulder, or other Denver-area health care institutions. Research topics range from identifying breast cancer subtypes genetically in the lab to developing tests used to match patients with specific Phase I clinical trials.

Grace Sollender remembers her research projects well. Three years ago she attended the fellowship—for the third time. She repeated the fellowship two times after initially attending the program in 2009, after finishing her sophomore year in high school at Saint Mary’s Academy in Denver.

“I was a 16-year-old kid, still in braces, who didn’t know anything about biology, and certainly not cancer research, but I was very eager to learn,” Sollender says.

Too young to be an official fellow, she was a volunteer the first year. Her initial research project examined the effects of hormones on mucinous breast cancer using a three-dimensional model. She and her colleagues wanted to see if the model, called Matrigel, performed the same as real breast tissue. It did, and Sollender earned credit as co-author of a 2013 paper in the journal Breast Cancer Research Treatment describing the findings. “I was thrilled,” Sollender says, noting that her grandparents were so proud they included a copy of the publication in their yearly Christmas newsletter.

In January 2014, Sollender was accepted into Dartmouth’s Giesel School of Medicine, which she’ll start next August. She plans to pursue internal medicine initially, and then specialize after that. “I think oncology will be the right field for me,” she says.

This article is excerpted from an article that originally appeared in the CU Cancer Center’s C3 Magazine.

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