Hudson -- Five students and a teacher worked side by side with Cleveland Clinic researchers over the summer on projects which may one day have a direct effect on ovarian, testicular and breast cancer treatments.
The students were part of a research team led by Dr. Vincent Tuohy, principal investigator for 11 years on the original breast cancer vaccine study at the clinic, according to WRA.
"Students that get involved in this internship are typically either thinking about a career in science or medicine and/or like the hands-on experience that they get in WRA's biotechnology class and so are seeking a deeper exposure," said Robert Aguilar, academy science teacher. "Since Dr. Vincent Tuohy and I first initiated this program seven years ago, we've managed to keep the program at an average length of six weeks with each student averaging about 30 hours per week."
Some students return to the clinic and academy as interns "to apprentice in our lab for extended periods," Aguilar said.
"There is never a school year that goes by that ex-interns don't contact me or one of my colleagues at the clinic and thank us for the real-world science experience," Aguilar added.
Three students, Alex Fellows of Canton; Megan Olson of Bay Village; and Eric Chueh of Rocky River participated in the research as part of WRA's exclusive Molecular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Internship program, putting in more than 260 combined hours of research time over the summer.
Dante Aguilar and Rebecca Cartellone, both of Hudson, joined the effort as additional research team members.
Alex worked directly with Dr. Ritika Jaini, project scientist at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, department of immunology, on the breast cancer vaccine, growing human breast cancer cells for the lab to analyze.
"The students generally hang out in the lab and immerse themselves in the culture of science," Jaini said. "They are doing actual work in the lab for us when they come in."
The students helped by mixing a variety of solutions and helping to grow cell lines for research, Jaini said.
The variety of questions asked also helped "wake everybody up," Jaini said.
"Having these kids come here with all these fresh question wakes everybody up," Jaini added. "These are really, really, smart kids -- especially the ones who are coming from the Western Reserve Academy -- they are exceptional children and they ask really important questions."
Alex Fellows, 17, is a senior who "has a strong interest in science," he said.
"Our jobs varied, but I was given the opportunity to grow cancer cells from frozen cell lines to be used in experiments, prepare different media for various cultures, and grow bacteria that produce a desired protein," Alex said.
At first, the working with the scientists was "a bit overwhelming," Alex said.
"As the program progressed, we became friends with our mentors, and I felt more comfortable performing in the lab," Alex added. "It was also amazing to think that I, a high school student, was able to help in a lab that has produced a prevention for breast cancer. I'm still amazed by the work they do there, and that I was able to be a small part of it."
Dante Aguilar, 16, is a junior. He is the son of the students' teacher, Robert Aguilar.
"During my time at the Cleveland clinic over last summer I assisted my father with his project on a testicular cancer vaccine," Dante said. "I would grow cancer cells, purify protein, and even create the vaccine itself."
Dante said he "felt proud" assisting with the clinic's research.
"I would even sometimes think to myself 'how many people my age are able to assist in the research that can save hundreds of lives,'" Dante said.
Dante plans to continue studying science, possibly in the field of biomedical engineering.
Aguilar believes "there is no better way to fully appreciate science and all the work that goes into these investigations than working in the lab."
"I feel that our students walk away with a very deep appreciation for the scientific method and the various amazing intricacies of nature," Aguilar said. "Students and their parents are typically very grateful of the tremendous opportunity afforded by the Cleveland Clinic."
Jaini recommends the program to students who have an interest in science.
"It's really great for them to get that exposure in one place," Jaini said.
Jaini believes if she had this kind of exposure to science when she was growing up "an excellent rate of development would have happened,"
"You cannot compare it with any kind of classroom teaching -- ever," Jaini said.