Gatton Academy students among first Emperor of Science Award winners
“I believe the cure for cancer is in our future. “ That’s the positive outlook of Kentucky student Haley Dicken. She and fellow Kentucky student Makenzie Daniels have been selected from among 1,200 high school applicants throughout the nation as winners of the inaugural Emperor of Science Award.
The award program, inspired by the PBS documentary Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies is designed to encourage high school students to explore careers in cancer research and care through a mentoring opportunity pairing them with leading research professionals in the field.
Dicken and Daniels are in their first year as students at Western Kentucky University’s Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky.
“Not unlike most people, I have a family history of cancer in my family,” noted Daniels. “The particular cancer that sparks my interest is hereditary breast and ovarian cancer related to the BRCA genetic mutation. My father’s side of the family tested positive for the mutation and my paternal grandmother died due to ovarian cancer related to this gene. Research in both treatments and prevention of cancer related to the genetic mutation is what I will be doing with my mentor.”
Daniels, a student researcher in the WKU department of biology’s Genome Discovery and Exploration Program, will be working with Dr. Shannon L. Puhalla, director, Breast Cancer Clinical Research Program and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. Dr. Puhalla is a medical oncologist and hematologist who specializes in breast oncology, Phase I clinical trials, and novel therapeutics in breast cancer.
Dr. Puhalla’s plans for Daniels’ 8-to-12-week research experience include the preparation of a manuscript outlining recent clinical trial findings. “It is a lot of work to compile and synthesize all of the clinical trial data into a paper. There is a lot of data analysis that goes into writing a paper and I think at her level she can assist with this but also learn what goes into a clinical trial and how we determine if there is safety and efficacy with a new drug.”
Dicken will be paired for 8-to-12 weeks with Dr. Natasha Kyprianou, the James F. Hardymon Chair in Urologic Research at the University of Kentucky Medical Center and a professor at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center. “Exposing the student to the rigorous research dynamic not only at UK but also from institutions across the nation will provide a monumental intellectual stimulation, strength to face challenges with determination and passion towards the cause of curing cancer,” said Dr. Kyprianou. “It will be a journey of inspiration, creativity and impact, all around.”
In addition to these invaluable research experiences, Daniels and Dicken will receive Google Chrome notebooks in support of their studies and $1,500 stipends for their expenses. They also will have the opportunity to continue the mentoring program throughout high school.
The award program is made possible by founding donors Genetech, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Novartis and through partners Stand Up to Cancer and PBS Learning Media.
Dicken senses that she has entered the ground floor of a career with historic potential. “This is an exciting field of study to be in, as it has been suggested in the world of cancer research that our generation may be the generation to discover the cure for cancer.”