When Arushi Raval was 12, her childhood friend, Kuhu Basak, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Surgeons were able to remove 30 percent of Basak’s tumor. This was followed by six weeks of proton radiation therapy, but the tumor grew back. She has gone through multiple types of chemotherapy for eight years, and she needs to stay on her current medication to keep the tumor stable. When her friend was diagnosed, Raval knew right away that she wanted to get involved in cancer research. Now, Raval and Basak are college roommates at University of Colorado Boulder, and this summer, Arushi has the chance to conduct her own research in the field of pediatric cancer research.

University of Colorado Cancer Center Fellowship Student, Arushi (left), and her childhood friend, Kuhu (right)

“It is because of her that I am interested in researching childhood cancer. I am excited to be a part of a lab that is making a difference and actively searching for more effective ways drugs can be used in cancer treatment,” Raval says.

Every summer, the University of Colorado’s Cancer Research Summer Fellowship Program gives exceptional students the opportunity to participate in topnotch cancer research. These college undergraduate students are paired with CU Cancer Center researchers to learn how to design and conduct experiments, how to troubleshoot unexpected results and how to think beyond what they already know. The students present their findings at the end of the summer. This year, Patricia Ernst, PhD, University of Colorado Cancer Center investigator and Professor of Pediatrics and Pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, is a recipient of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation grant that funds biomedical research in pediatric cancer. This grant made it possible for Ernst to be Raval’s preceptor during the program this summer.

Raval’s research will focus on acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Specifically, she will be testing the roles of genes MLL1 and MLL2, which make proteins critical to the development of AML, to see if targeting these genes might be a useful strategy against childhood AML. Raval’s basic science will inform the laboratory’s drug development efforts and contribute to understanding how to combine new therapeutic strategies with existing therapies.

Pediatric cancer research has many ups and downs, and experimental outcomes don’t always turn out as expected. Ernst wants future cancer researchers to know that they “must be capable of dealing with failure while keeping your goal in mind and being creative with how to accomplish the goal – if one experimental approach does not work, try others. Troubleshooting is a very important part of discovery, but most new researchers do not realize how much of this occupies their daily activities.”

Ernst points out that while conducting experiments is important, directing a research laboratory requires a huge variety of skills beyond what students generally learn in a biological sciences/chemistry degree or program. For example, developing people management skills, learning to communicate in other languages, working in teams, managing budgets and more. Raval is taking advantage of her experiences during the fellowship program and will showcase how she has utilized her skills at a poster session in August.