Lab coats hung down to their shins. Goggles needed constant adjustment. For most, the gloves practically swallowed the small hands inside them.
But nothing was big enough to contain the imagination, enthusiasm and potential of the 19 budding young scientists who visited OMRF this week.
For the 38th consecutive year, the biomedical research foundation opened its doors to promising young students from Putnam City Schools for a day of working alongside researchers in OMRF labs.
“This has been awesome. It’s so much fun to work here, because I get to use all the cool equipment and see first-hand how it all works,” said Coronado Heights Elementary fifth-grader Lochi Pratapaneni, who worked with OMRF’s Biji Kurien to separate proteins to find a specific one shown in lupus.
The students, primarily comprised of fourth and fifth graders, had the opportunity to try a little bit of everything from separating proteins from tumors in an MRI to examining enzyme activity in various fruits and vegetables.
“Today I’ve been looking at fish and looking at their cells and genes,” said fifth-grade Rollingwood Elementary student Lauren Jackson. “Your genes make you have your eyes, your ears, everything, and we’re looking at how they develop in the fish. When those genes get mutations, they change and they can cause tumors. Today I got to see what that means.”
This hands-on experience is one way OMRF says thank you to the teachers, students and parents from Putnam City Schools who have raised more than $3.3 million for cancer research at OMRF.
Over the years, the district has raised funds through bake sales, talent shows, 5k runs, athletic tournaments and more. It has also funded the creation of the Putnam City Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research. This position is held by Linda Thompson, Ph.D., who helped create the world’s first genetic-based risk assessment test for breast cancer.
“I think it’s powerful for the kids to see where the money they’ve help raise goes. This is what the cancer drive helps to achieve,” said Putnam City representative Jason Hasty. “On the science part of it, this could be the spark for some of these kids. It’s important to get first-hand experience and meet with the scientists.”
OMRF will soon welcome 17 middle school and high school students from the district for a similar experience. Students who participate in the programs are hand-selected by teachers as those who show the most interest and promise in science.
“There’s an extra skip in our step when the Putnam City kids come each year,” said OMRF Senior Development Associate Allison Parker. “We love the energy the students bring to our labs, and the interaction they have with their scientific mentors is invaluable. We are genuinely proud of our relationship with Putnam City, and we’re even prouder to be able to show the students first-hand how much they’re helping improve human health through their consistent support.”