Students learn about cancer research at ‘Hutch High’

November 10, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Sara Kirschbaum, a lab technician at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (left), shows Issaquah High School sophomores Valeria Zamano, Christina Abercrombie, Maria Dalzell and Anna Magidson (clockwise), how to use micropipetting machines to take and place samples in test tubes. By Chantelle Lusebrink

Sara Kirschbaum, a lab technician at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (left), shows Issaquah High School sophomores Valeria Zamano, Christina Abercrombie, Maria Dalzell and Anna Magidson (clockwise), how to use micropipetting machines to take and place samples in test tubes. By Chantelle Lusebrink

These students spooling strawberry DNA, micropipetting samples into mystifying test tubes and discussing the effects of sickle cell anemia are mad about science.

Nearly 250 high school students from 23 of the state’s high schools, including students from Issaquah and Liberty high schools, descended on the research laboratories of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle for a day of science in action Nov. 5.

“I wanted to come to learn more about science and cancer,” said David Adams, one of seven Liberty sophomores at the event. “How science develops is exciting.”

Coming from as far away as Yakima, Arlington and Chelan, the students used their science know-how to conduct their own experiments, and listened to researchers speak about their careers and work.

“Science is not just something done in a lab downtown. It applies to everyday life,” said Issaquah teacher Lena Jones, who took 10 students. “We are here because it is an opportunity for some of our students to see real live scientists work right here in our own community.”“The day is designed to give those students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a working laboratory to see one and work,” event spokeswoman Christi Ball Loso said.

“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, of some sort, and thought this would be really cool,” Liberty sophomore Lauren Martin said.

“I wanted to come because I do a dance, called Dance for the Cure, that raises money for Fred Hutch and cancer research and I wanted to see what they did,” Issaquah sophomore Christina Abercrombie said. “It’s been really interesting.”

It also allows the students to see how things they are learning in their textbooks actually occur in real life, Liberty teacher Diane Allen said.

“You can only replicate a science lab to a point in school,” she said. “This gives them a chance to see what really goes on in a lab, what the people are really like and how what they do affects them every day.”

Students attended four lectures hosted by researchers. They included information about bacterial infections, sickle cell anemia, similarities in development between zebra fish and humans, and how bacterial infections can sometimes cause cancer.

“It is an incredible program,” said Dr. Michael A. Bender, who works in hematology and oncology. “For me, it is about exposure. Just like anything else in life, you need hands-on experience, whether social, sports or other activities.

“To touch and make DNA and see this stuff, makes it so much more real for them,” he added.

At the germ-detecting station, students were “infected” with glow-in-the-dark residue after greeting volunteers and each other in a room. After they shook hands, students were asked to put their hands under a black light to reveal the dissemination of germs. Students then had to find out how many times it took to wash their hands to rid them of germs.

They also got to look at common products that grow bacteria, like a computer keyboard, a sponge, the human mouth and a doorknob.

At the micropipetting station, they were able to learn the ins and outs of laboratory testing and sample sizes. Liberty students Julie Do and Cloie Chapman challenged one another to a micropipetting race.

Students also learned to spool DNA from a strawberry. By crushing its juices, straining its cell membranes and adding ethanol to it, they drew the DNA strands toward the top of a test tube. After, they transferred the viscous membrane of DNA strands into another test tube, so researchers could use the samples for new projects, said University of Washington graduate student and intern Liz Kwan.

Researchers will use some of the DNA to isolate different genes or try to damage the DNA using certain chemicals to see what it can withstand, she said.

“It’s been really fun and interesting at the same time,” Issaquah Sophomore Jeffrey Mathiesen said.

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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