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CURE program jumpstarts research careers

Aisha Townes presents her research findings. (Laura Wulf photo)

Aisha Townes spoke with such authority on the topic of antibody biomarkers in cancer detection that it would be easy to think she had studied the subject for years, not weeks. Poised, well spoken, and thorough in her scientific presentation to a packed audience in the Smith Family Room, it’s hard to believe she is only 18.

“I was so jittery and nervous, but once it was over, it felt like such an accomplishment,” says Townes of the presentation, which she practiced more than 30 times.

Townes is one of 31 students who participated in the CURE program - Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences - throughout the seven DF/HCC member institutions this summer. Each high school or college student is assigned a DF/HCC member as a mentor and placed in a research environment in the hopes that hands-on lab work will encourage them to pursue careers in science. The students displayed their research projects at a series of presentations August 15-17.

“These programs are not just about getting young people interested in a healthcare career. It is about providing exposure and opportunities to students of diverse backgrounds that will hopefully lead to an increase in these individuals becoming interested in careers in cancer research,” says Karen BurnsWhite, deputy associate director for the Initiative to Eliminate Cancer Disparities at DF/HCC.

Townes is now a freshman at Harvard University who plans to major in chemistry. She hopes to one day earn both her doctor of medicine and doctor of philosophy degrees, and to perform research at home and abroad.

CURE participants can chose between an eight-week summer curriculum or spread their research experience over two years. In addition to learning research fundamentals, all students attend weekly seminars, develop writing, speaking, and presentation skills, and explore issues and ethics in science.