McArdle’s ‘BESTT’ team races for cancer education and awareness

Dr. Bill Sugden (left) and Dr. Zach Pratt (right)

Dr. Bill Sugden and his colleagues pulled together the Bridging Education and Science Today for Tomorrow (BESTT) team to participate in the UW Carbone’s Race for Research 5k this Saturday, June 15. The team is raising money for the Summer Research Institute, a program that will give high school students within the Janesville School District the opportunity to learn about cancer research, bioinformatics, genetics, and how to conduct experiments.

The Summer Research Institute was founded by Dr. Zach Pratt, a graduate student and former researcher at McArdle. This summer marks the genesis of the program.

The students will learn a variety of techniques over the course with a focus on how mutations drive change. Their work will include accessing public databases of genome sequences to evaluate the frequency of certain mutations, such as mutations of the BRCA1 gene which dramatically increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

Helping young people become engaged in real experiments that are the basis of research is extremely important in raising cancer awareness and empowering the next generation to drive research forward, said Sugden.

Many people do not understand what cancer is and how to minimize it, said Sugden. A program like this will help spread awareness about cancer to the people of Wisconsin, helping them to minimize its worst consequences by early diagnosis, he said.

“You can imagine that anything high school students learn, they’re going to tell their parents, and they’re going to distribute it into the community.”

This is important because 1 in 3 people are affected by cancer, so it affects all of us. And, it can be both a scary and life-changing illness, said Sugden.

The lab is working hard to support Pratt’s efforts not only by reaching out to friends and family for donations, but also by hand-making lab equipment that is too expensive for Pratt to obtain for the program in its early stages, said Sugden.

Lab members are designing and building a spectrophotometer for less than $100 of parts from an electronics shop, while it costs thousands of dollars in retail.

“While research funds are competitive and difficult to get, they are still more readily available than support for public education on cancer research. The source of funding for what Zach is doing is harder to come by,” said Sugden.

The program’s efforts remind Rebecca Hutcheson, a graduate student in Sugden’s lab, of her own beginnings in research.

Remembering how excited she was when she was first taught molecular techniques during her undergraduate years, having a high school program like the Summer Research Institute would have put her way ahead, not only in knowledge, but in understanding what research is like, she said.

In addition, Janesville schools have fewer other opportunities for science enrichment in the summer which makes this program even more important, said Hutcheson.

The six members on the BESTT team have raised over $3,500 for the Summer Research Institute over the past month.

The team that raises the most money will be rewarded $5000 from the UW-Carbone Cancer Center to go towards their cause. Of the 70 teams participating, the BESTT team is in second place, only a few hundred dollars behind the leading team which has 35 members.

Anyone can support the BESTT team’s efforts to provide support to cancer research education opportunities online.

This year marks the 11th year of the UW Carbone’s Race for Research 5K. Last year, the race raised over $185,000. It will take place on the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course in Verona. Community members can still sign up to run or walk at the event, or arrive at 10:30AM for live music, games, and food to support the cause.