Ted R. Lilley Cancer CURE Program Helps Teens Focus on a Future in Science

 As a high school student, Alex Perepechaev knew he wanted his career to impact people’s lives in a positive way – he just wasn’t sure how. Then he learned about an innovative research and mentorship program at the OHSUCancer Institute and his future soon came into focus.

The Ted R. Lilley Cancer CURE Program at OHSU exposes high school students from economically disadvantaged populations to cancer-focused science while stimulating their interest in biomedical research and health careers. Each year, eight Portland-area high school students selected on merit get the chance to spend two summers working in a laboratory alongside OHSU cancer researchers. This program is a partnership with the Center for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (CeDMA).

Enticed by the intellectual challenge and the potential to help others, Alex applied to the program in his junior year and was thrilled to be selected. He spent the following summer working in the lab of Joshi Alumkal, M.D., an OHSU prostate cancer researcher, gaining hands-on experience that helped solidify his career plans. The CURE Program also guided Alex through the college application process. As a result, he is now a freshman at Portland State University, having just completed his second summer in Alumkal’s lab. 

“This year I worked with a different type of cell line performing various experiments and treating the cells with [an experimental] drug to see the outcome of the treatment,” Alex explained. “With the help of Dr. Alumkal and his lab assistants, we [learned more about] how this drug affects the cells overall.” He also spent time shadowing staff in the patient clinic, gaining a rare perspective into the world of the clinician-researcher.

“I enjoy seeing students who come in with wonder and excitement but who leave with knowledge and skills that will serve them well whatever path they choose,” Alumkal said. “I cannot think of a more worthy endeavor curethan introducing kids like these to the joys of science and medicine.”

The skills Alex developed during the program were evident to those around him. “When I would ask him about his project, the level of specificity of his response was surprising,” said Larry Gray, a program mentor and an OHSU doctoral student in biochemistry. “He showed incredible insight into what he was doing and how it would drive future research.”

Alex knows that his experience in the program and the people he has met will be instrumental in his career development. “I made friends that will help me out in the future in choosing the right path,” he said.