MARC Program a Boon to NCI Studies
By Francis X. Mahaney, Jr.
Lorna Damo, a bright, energetic biology major from Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, spent the summer of 1997 in NCI's Laboratory of Cellular Carcinogenesis and Tumor Promotion in an effort to determine whether the anticancer drug cisplatin or the anti-AIDS drug AZT may ultimately play a role in human cell death.
For Damo, who hopes to become a physician-scientist caring for patients and doing oncology research, her 4-month stint at NCI enabled her to learn new laboratory techniques and improve her proficiency as a science student.
She was a participant in the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Program.
NCI, through a cofunding arrangement with the MARC program of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, provides support for research training to minority students and institutions, as well as conference grant support. The NCI-MARC Summer Training Program is an extension of the cofunding process.
Its prime objective is to increase research training opportunities at NCI for underrepresented minority scholars like Damo, and increase the number of minority scholars entering into cancer-related research careers through the influence of short-term laboratory training at NCI.
"As an Asian-American and a woman, I truly believe that [this] is a great program," said the 20-year-old student from San Francisco. "Since the age of 13, I have been interested in cancer," she explained. During her senior year of high school, Damo volunteered at Ronald McDonald House, working with children who had cancer.
During the past summer, Damo extracted DNA, prepared tissue samples, counted cells under the microscope and stained slides with antibodies to observe specific biological processes of drugs under study. And while her research seemed small compared to the myriad scientific achievements in a laboratory of 70 scientists, it may play a role in understanding how to make cancer treatments more effective.
"There is no substitute for hands-on experience," said Dr. Miriam C. Poirier, senior investigative scientist and head of the section where Damo worked. "The skills and scientific techniques that Lorna learned this summer will be invaluable throughout her whole life."
"What makes science so fascinating is that one often starts to explore a scientific issue with a question which in turn leads to an answer which presents more questions," Damo said.
Yari Marin, a 19-year-old microbiology student at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez, also participated in this year's program. Working in the Laboratory of Biochemistry under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Mage, she spent the summer studying immunology.
Her experiments on T cell stimulation could eventually lead to new treatments that strengthen the human immune system.
"It opened new doors to my understanding of molecular research and accelerated my understanding of scientific theory while allowing me to jump in and learn scientific techniques that otherwise would have taken me years to develop," Marin said. "The MARC program gave me opportunities that I never would have received anywhere else."
Marin obtained skills and scientific knowledge that will prepare her to face the challenges of working in a genetics lab at the University of Puerto Rico, where she will set out to prove with her professors the "evolutionary clock theory."
This year, students enrolled in the NCI/MARC program conducted research in eight laboratories. The students included: Hasani Carter of Virginia Union University, Aleshia Hall of Jackson State University, Turkessa Walker of Clark Atlanta University, and Carlethia Cherry of Alabama State University.
To learn more about the NCI/MARC Program, call 496-7344.
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