A post-doctoral researcher in the lab of University of Colorado Cancer Center Director Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, is a featured scientist on an app encouraging young people to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Couragion-Role-Model-Cancer-Researcher-2

The app was developed by Couragion. Not only does it encourage young people to consider STEM careers, the app also helps kids as young as 5th grade find which discipline may be the best fit for them and identify role models in their areas of interest.

As part of the effort, Carolyn Ritterson Lew, PhD, worked with Couragion to create a video giving a glimpse into what she does as a member of the Theodorescu lab.  Lew is post-doc researcher in molecular biology and biochemistry.  She works with a protein called amylo-alpha-1, 6-glucosidase, 4-alpha-glucanotransferase (AGL), also known as glycogen debranching enzyme.  AGL is involved in the breakdown of glycogen when the human body needs energy.

“We’re the first lab to show AGL has a role in cancer – when it’s lost in bladder cancer cells and tumors, they grow faster,” said Lew. “Whatever AGL is doing in these tumors is not because of its glycogen debranching function. We are looking for the mechanism that makes AGL a tumor suppressor in bladder cancer.”

Lew says she always knew she wanted to be a scientist and received her first microscope when she was just 10 years old.  As much as she likes her job, and has received recognition in the form of a very competitive National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health, some days she appreciates a reminder why she chose cancer research as a career.

“After a long day when an experiment isn’t working,” said Lew, “It’s humbling and flattering to hear people say that the work we do matters.”

CU Cancer Center’s commitment to education is broad and exemplified by several programs for all levels of students. For example, the Cancer Research Summer Fellowship Program gives young people a chance to explore biomedical fields. Each summer 35 to 40 college undergraduates and a few advanced high school students spend 10 weeks in CU Cancer Center laboratories at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado State University and other Denver-area health care institutions. The goal of the program is to engage scientific curiosity in the next generation of cancer scientists.

Similarly, Learn About Cancer Day is a day-long seminar and tour of research facilities aimed at high school students from metropolitan Denver enrolled in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate biology or chemistry classes. The goal of Learn About Cancer Day is to ignite students’ interest in cancer-related research.

“As a comprehensive cancer center designated by the National Cancer Institute, it’s our responsibility and our mission to encourage and educate the next round of cancer scientists,” said Theodorescu. “One of my favorite aspects of my job is interacting and training the next generation of scientists and physicians. It’s gratifying to see Carolyn as a role model for young people considering a STEM career. The future of science is in good hands.”

See Lew’s video here.