What brings young people with cancer, physicians, scientists, and researchers together? Innovative thinking. And awesome experiences like when Peter Kuhn, PhD opened up the doors of his laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute for another Patient Night at the Lab. San Diego members of Young Survival Coalition and Stupid Cancer were honored to be allowed into this secret world of Circulating Tumor Cells.
Contrary to popular belief, cancer labs aren’t scary at night or full of zombies working endless hours behind a microscope. At Peter’s lab the researchers are laughing, drinking birchtree juice and open to sharing information. Everyone here works together seamlessly to reach the goals of tailoring treatment for patients, monitoring disease recurrence, investigating therapies before cancer, and diagnosing cancer in high risk peeps. How does this team tackle all of these issues? With blood, of course.
In some situations, cancer cells escape from the primary tumor and travel through the blood to start distant metastasis. Peter’s team is working hard to understand all aspects of this travel. As good guests in his lab, we want to learn more about these “Circulating Tumor Cell’s” and Kelly Bethel, M.D. gets us started and deems us Pathologists in just under 5 minutes.
Leveraging the fluid phase of solid tumors the Scripps Physics Oncology Center is advancing daily the forefront of both improving healthcare effectiveness by providing drug guidance and increasing our understanding of cancer as a disease in each individual patient.
With a combo of lecture and laboratory tour we couldn’t help but start to feel like Jr. Scientists half way through the eve. Even considering my science background consists of defying the laws of physics with a support bra (not to mention my do-it-yourself 6th grade science kit) so I’m beyond excited that the researchers and physicians go through great lengths to speak to us candidly about their pursuits. Physicians, researchers, scientists, and cancer survivor attendees are encouraged to ask questions and provide any feedback that might be useful. This is a refreshing change from the typical cancer experience where the doctor tells you to do x, y, z and you receive an eye roll the second you ask a question. Tonight is all about learning, exchanging ideas and blood (duh).
Blood samples can have a large impact on cancer management. Blood provides oncologists with clues about a patient’s precise status. Being a breast cancer patient, I’m no stranger to giving blood, sending it to “the lab”, getting injected with potions, and receiving results days later. At the Night at the Lab we have the opportunity to see “Blood Sample Freezing”, “Staining”, “Slide Scanning”, “Report Analysis”, “Cell Picking”, and how each step methodically unveils more and more information. So cool. We get to see how blood samples containing billions of cells are analyzed to find ten to hundreds of cancer cells. Talk about “Where’s Waldo” (this is Peter’s favorite reference) or a needle in the haystack. After seeing first hand the procedures, patience, and promise in this lab it excites me to be able to work with this group in the future. Scripps Physics Oncology Center is part of a larger research community and is just one of twelve National Cancer Institute funded research centers all of which are dedicated to making a difference in cancer control. This should offer patients a lot of hope knowing that the best and brightest are working hard to eradicate cancer.
Don’t forget. There is a science to everything.