As one of the winners of a recent Team in Training fundraising contest, I received an exclusive invitation to tour the cancer research lab of Dr. Chen-Kiang, a recipient of Leukemia & Lymphoma Society funding. She is currently researching a new treatment for myeloma aimed at halting cancerous cell division to more effectively treat the cancer. If successful, these treatment methods could eventually be applied to many other types of cancer.
First of all, I have to admit that at first, I wasn't exactly sure just how interesting a lab tour would be. I thought it might be highly and possibly boringly over-scientific. Boy, was I wrong! First of all, they fed us! They had ordered these absolutely delicious organic sandwiches, bottled water, and best of all, coffee!!! (Thank you, Deidra!) Not only that, but at several points during her presentation, Dr. Chen-Kiang stopped and made us feel guilty about the number of sandwiches still on the trays, so we had to eat some more!
If there is one thing Dr. Chen-Kiang is not, it is boring! Her enthusiasm and the joy that she finds in her work was obvious. You could tell that she totally loves what she's doing by the way her face completely lit up as she told us about some of the important discoveries they've made in blood cancer research. This was second only to the way her face lit up when she talked about her daughter, who is currently attending medical school there. Her passion for her work is infectious. Far from being overly-technical, Dr. Chen-Kiang has an amazing gift of explaining very complex cancer research and biology to a room full of total non-scientists (seriously, we weren't even close!) To top it all off, she is funny! She has a great sense of humor, particularly when it comes to stereotypes about scientists being a bit like Dr. Frankenstein.
The lab tour was really incredible. We were able to see actual living myeloma cells that are being used to test various treatments, and to see the effects on cells that were treated. What I found really amazing, other than how well some of these treatments are doing what they're supposed to do, was how tiny cancer cells are. Under a microscope, they were about the size of the head of a pin. It's really hard to imagine how something so small can kill a person, but they do.
The research that Dr. Chen-Kiang is doing is aimed at a combination of targeting only the cancer cells, stopping their growth and cell division, and then killing them before they start another growth and division cycle. Dr. Chen-Kiang started working on this back in 1997, and they are on a very encouraging path. One of their treatments is now also being used successfully with breast cancer patients. So, the work her team is doing benefits not only those with leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, but with other types of cancer as well.
It is really amazing, and it definitely added something very concrete and very personal to my mission to raise funds for blood cancer research. This is where my fundraising dollars are going, to support the research of cancer biologists like Dr. Cheng-Kiang. To be able to see my fundraising dollars at work was really pretty incredible!