In an IU School of Medicine pathology lab, Shortridge High School student Isaac Carrera Ochoa is at a microscope looking for specific cancer biomarkers to be used in immunotherapy cancer treatment. Ochoa is searching for a biomarker called VISTA.
“I have studied 19 cases and only two seemed positive,” Ochoa says.
Professor Dr. George Sandusky, Ochoa’s mentor, says the work of these high schoolers is having a tangible impact on patient lives.
“We’re right on the cutting edge here because several people do get immunotherapy when they come from regional and outlying hospitals,” Sandusky says.
Sandusky says immunotherapy uses the patient's own body to fight the cancer instead of radiation and chemotherapy – though immunotherapy may be used in tandem with the other treatments.
He says this kind of hands-on experience has a lasting impact on the students. Sandusky recently learned a participant from several years ago is now at the IU School of Medicine.
Ochoa says his cancer research this summer is especially meaningful because he has a relative being treated for breast cancer.
Arsenal Tech High School senior Atanai Nunez Samaniego says she’s grateful she was chosen to participate in the program. Nunez Samaniego says science and medicine are her favorite subjects.
“Ever since I was younger, I always liked exploring things, like trying to figure out and look at things – see the small picture instead of looking at the bigger picture. And in science you do that a lot – lots of problem solving and I love problem solving,” Nunez Samaniego says.
Before the Future Scientist Program she says she thought she wanted to be a kidney specialist, but now that she’s gotten to know pathology and forensic students – her career path has a new focus.