This summer, the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB led two cancer biology courses as part of a program to inspire rising Alabama ninth-grade students by exposing them to cellular and molecular biology concepts through the context of cancer research. This novel program, called BioBridge, uses a summer camp format to provide students with a hands-on experience learning to appreciate and identify the differences between normal and cancerous cells. In doing so, the program helps bring students’ abstract understanding of cancer to life.

UAB pathology resident Kesley Greene, M.D., shows Birmingham-area high schoolers the morphologic changes present in slides containing cancerous regions, as part of this summer’s BioBridge camp on June 23. (Photo by Michelle S. Johnson)UAB pathology resident Kesley Greene, M.D., shows Birmingham-area high schoolers the morphologic changes present in slides containing cancerous regions, as part of this summer’s BioBridge camp on June 23. (Photo by Michelle S. Johnson)

BioBridge is a cancer biology-themed summer science camp – sponsored by the O’Neal Cancer Center’s cancer education program and the UAB Center for Community Outreach Development’s “Roadmap for America’s Cancer Explorers for the 21st Century”, or RACE21, program – for rising ninth-graders in surrounding school systems, funded by the National Cancer Institute and directed by Michelle S. Johnson.

In addition to educating rising ninth-grade students, BioBridge provided an opportunity for undergraduates in the RACE21 program to give back to their community. RACE21 Scholars were engaged in planning and organizing the BioBridge camp as an outreach activity. Through each weeklong workshop, held June 21-25 and July 26-30, students received hands-on instruction from O’Neal Cancer Center researchers.

During the one-week program, ninth-graders constructed a network of professional contacts. Lalita Shevde-Samant, Ph.D., professor of Pathology and associate director for cancer research training and education coordination at the O’Neal Cancer Center, teamed up with UAB pathologists Alison Burkett, M.D., Oraine Snaith, M.D., Kesley Greene, M.D., and Caroline Stanek, M.D., to work directly with BioBridge students.

UAB RACE21 undergraduates Glenda Booker and Rhythm Williams give instruction to high school students at this year’s BioBridge summer science camp on June 23. (Photo by Michelle S. Johnson)UAB RACE21 undergraduates Glenda Booker and Rhythm Williams give instruction to high school students at this year’s BioBridge summer science camp on June 23. (Photo by Michelle S. Johnson)

During the workshop, UAB faculty discussed potential careers in pathology, which included showing students examples of science at work. In one activity, students compared slides of normal and cancerous tissue in various organs in the lab. The students also learned about the various aspects of Pathology that impact medical diagnosis and treatment. Katherine Ankenbauer, a cancer biology graduate student in the laboratory of Susan Bellis, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the O’Neal Cancer Center, spoke with BioBridge students about choosing UAB for their cancer biology graduate studies. 

The students ended the one-week BioBridge camp with a presentation by Braden McFarland, Ph.D., co-director of UAB’s undergraduate cancer biology program. The camp culminated in a cancer biology-intensive week that also dedicated a portion of time to informing students on choosing cancer biology as a college major, as well as on pursuing a future in cancer research or care.

Read more from UAB News about RACE21 and BioBridge, as well as about Nicholas Johnson, Rhythm Williams and Toby Liu, a few of the undergraduate facilitators who helped make BioBridge a success, and their roles in this year’s summer workshops.

Dylan Baggiano, UAB News and Meredith Preuss contributed to this report.