This summer the news has been “all about the team”. The Olympics have captivated all of us with the stories of individual and team accomplishments. The U.S. gold medal victories for several teams–swimming relays, men's and women's basketball, women's track relays, women's gymnastics, and more–surely captured our attention. Two other notable team efforts in the field of science also dominated the news. On July 4, an international team of scientists announced the long-awaited discovery of an elementary particle called the Higgs boson. Just a month later the Curiosity rover landed safely on Mars to undertake a series of investigations about the planet. Both of these scientific triumphs are the results of hard work over a long period of time by large multidisciplinary teams working toward a common goal. These same qualities characterize the health care provider teams that care for our cancer patients and the research teams that try to accelerate our progress.
Here at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) we have focused on another team effort over the summer–fostering the education of students who will become the next generation of researchers in the quest against cancer through the UPCI Summer Academy. Founded in 2009, this program is designed to promote engagement in cancer research and careers in cancer for high school students, especially those from underrepresented minorities or disadvantaged backgrounds. This year the UPCI Summer Academy provided 28 high school students (chosen from over 100 applicants) with eight weeks of didactic and experiential learning experience through our collaboration with the Pittsburgh Public Schools, the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Institute, and Bayer Material Sciences as well as partnership with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh Offices of Health Sciences Diversity and Science Education Outreach. Participating students worked nearly full time in a selected mentor's laboratory, enjoyed a weekly teaching session on cancer biology led by Pitt faculty and graduate students, and made visits to biomedical facilities ranging from the zebrafish laboratory to the operating room. Students could choose between research opportunities in the labs of the Hillman Cancer Center, the Women's Cancer Research Program at Magee Womens' Research Institute, and the Departments of Computational and Systems Biology and Biomedical Informatics (CoSSBI). On the last day each summer scholar had the chance to give a brief talk about his/her research and then present a poster in the Hillman Cancer Center Atrium.
Such an activity is not possible without a very large team of dedicated mentors and staff. We are especially grateful to founding UPCI Summer Academy Director, Michael Lotze, MD and UPCI Summer Academy Program Administrator, Megan Seippel, MPA for their year round efforts on this important task. Special thanks to the many faculty mentors and poster judges for their dedication to the students and the program. This program would not be able to take place without financial support from the National Cancer Institute's CURE Program made available through a competitive supplement to the UPCI cancer center support grant–a tangible example of how our tax dollars come back to support the members of our community. It is hard to imagine a better goal for our team than nurturing the next generation of team leaders and members–the researchers and physicians of the future. Their youth, energy, and curiosity lit up our labs even more than usual over the last several weeks. As Dr. Lotze and Ms. Seippel said, “The young people of Pittsburgh (and beyond, now attracted here for our programs) are passionate and brilliant. Their presence revitalizes and reinforces our efforts every year. Our mission is strong.” Like the Olympics, the Higgs boson, and Curiosity, the UPCI Summer Academy is all about the team–we want to make sure that the patients of the future receive the best possible care from the team of the future.