A Day as a Cancer Researcher: From the Microscope to Bioinformatic Analysis of Genetic Data

On the occasion of the nationwide Girls’ and Boys’ Day, the clinical research group CATCH ALL at the University clinic Schleswig-Holstein, Campus Kiel opened its doors to interested students. For a day, four girls and one boy got to experience being molecular cancer researchers and follow a blood sample from the laboratory to the computer screen for analysis under the supervision of Dr. Alina Hartmann and Dr. Sophie Steinhäuser. Among other things, they were introduced to the profession of bioinformatician as part of the Girls’ Day activities. Meeting female role models from various STEM fields and gaining practical experience highlights attractive career opportunities for young people and can aid them in making career choices.

The day began with an introduction to cancer research by Dr. Lorenz Bastian, Senior Clinician Scientist, focusing particularly on acute leukemias. The students learned that cancer research involves collecting and analyzing data on genes from cancer cells, utilizing methods such as statistical models and artificial intelligence. This helps determine which genes are currently active in a cancer cell and how they differ from healthy cells. Connecting this information with clinical data facilitate the identification of treatments that might work for different patients.

Together with Dr. Sophie Steinhäuser and other scientists from the UKSH, students explored the way of a blood sample from the bench to the computer.

In the laboratory, the students observed leukemia cells under the microscope. They learned how to investigate whether a drug is effective against leukemia cells or not. This involved cell staining with a dye called Trypan blue to distinguish between living and dead cells. Additionally, they measured how much the cells multiplied under the drug treatment to see if it reduced the growth of leukemia cells.
The second practical part focused on decoding and analyzing genetic information. Alina Hartmann and Nadine Wolgast, CATCH ALL PhD student in Bioinformatics, showed the students how medically relevant information is extracted from data using computational code.

The four girls and one boy observed leukemia cells under a microscope.

The day ended with a shared snack and an open exchange involving further scientists, doctors, and other members of the University Cancer Center Schleswig-Holstein (UCCSH).
Within the framework of the Clinical Research Group “CATCH ALL – towards a cure for all adults and children with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)”, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), an interdisciplinary team of clinicians and basic scientists, organized within UCCSH and the Kiel Oncology Network (KON), is researching new approaches for improved precision therapies for ALL patients of all age groups.

For more information about the Girl’s day, click here.

Text: Antonia Köser & Dr. Claudia Taubenheim

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