For Me, Cancer Research Is Personal

Hannah Slabodkin

By Hannah Slabodkin, 
Sophomore in the City Honors School Science Research Program

Cancer is in my family background. My grandmother Betty Slabodkin fought a courageous battle against the disease before passing away in 1999—just months after I was born. In fact, my parents first took me to meet her at Roswell Park Cancer Institute when she was a patient.

Fast-forward 15 years. I feel I have come full circle as a sophomore at City Honors School enrolled in the Science Research Program at Roswell Park. Since 1998, Roswell Park has partnered with City Honors to give students a head start—over their entire four years of high school—on careers in medicine or medical research, helping them to develop their laboratory skills.

More than 30 students have successfully completed the program and have received a special joint diploma between City Honors and Roswell Park. Currently, the Science Research Program includes six students—including myself. On a weekly basis throughout the school year I spend an entire day at the Roswell Park lab, as well as at least two days per week after school. And, during the summer when I am on school break, I work in the lab on a full-time basis.

Of particular interest to me is what happens when cancer cells are subjected to chemotherapy and radiation, why only specific types of cancer cells are killed within a tumor, and why other cancer cells mutate and become resistant to therapies.

Under the guidance of Eugene Kandel, PhD, an assistant professor of oncology in the Department of Cell Stress Biology, as well as members of his research team, I am studying ways to improve the efficacy of newly developed therapies for melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer and the world’s fastest growing cancer. At the end of my senior year in high school, I will present and defend a thesis in my area of interest.

My experience in the Science Research Program has been both challenging and rewarding. It’s an invaluable opportunity for me to explore a possible career. As I work in the lab at Roswell Park, I often think of my grandmother, her struggle with cancer, and how proud she would be of my work.