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Researching cancer as an Illinois student: Joy Chen

Cancer Center at Illinois
6/15/2020 10:08:35 AM

Bridging the engineering-biology continuum is a puzzle that drives and fascinates cancer researchers like Joy Chen, a junior undergraduate bioengineering student at the University of Illinois, former researcHStart student, and current Cancer Scholar.

A Cancer Center at Illinois’ summer program, researcHStart, offered Joy a chance to hone her basic laboratory skills and scientific methods, while also introducing a love for engineering and a passion for cancer research.

“Engineering is focused on problem solving, and there’s an endless amount of things that you can discover. You apply creativity to biological concepts to create something that can help people,” said Joy. “As a child I would wonder, ‘What can we do, as scientists and doctors, to help others’?”

Inspired by her experiences in researcHStart, Joy has since continued her research with Erik Nelson, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology. She is currently studying the cause-and-effect relationship between metabolites of cholesterol and breast cancer metastasis and re-emergence from dormancy.

“I think it’s really great that the donors decided to fund a program like researcHStart because it’s pretty rare to have a program for high-schoolers with little experience, and train them, giving them an introduction to research,” said Joy.

Ira Cohen, who funds the researcHStart program with his wife, Debra, added, “We think it is important to expose young people to research as a valuable tool beyond what they are exposed to in earlier grades. Our goal was to get students to work in a real working lab and bring value to whatever lab they are assigned to.”

When Joy is not conducting research in the lab, she works for equality in engineering as an Engineering Ambassador and a member of the Society of Women Engineers. She is also looking forward to continuing her studies in a biomedical engineering PhD program and gaining more hands-on research experience.

“I really like doing engineering-related outreach and communicating scientific ideas to the general population. A lot of kids don’t know what engineering is or what engineers do. Having these outreach events brings that to light for them, and lets them know that engineering can be applied to all disciplines ,” said Joy.

researcHStart and the Cancer Scholars Program are Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL) education programs for students who are interested in pursuing careers in cancer research. researcHStart is a donor-funded, eight-week program that pairs high-school students with Illinois researchers. Cancer Scholars is an undergraduate program that provides clinical, patient-oriented, and entrepreneurial opportunities alongside comprehensive disciplinary training.