Students performing science experiments in the Gibbs lab during Young Investigators Camp

Middle school students investigate DNA with Gibbs research team

Barbara Christensen’s love of science makes her want to share it with students.

“I want them to see how cool it is,” she said.

Christensen was excited to bring a group of students from Carver Middle School into the lab at Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute in June for a one-day Young Investigators Camp.

Six rising eighth-graders spent the day using state-of-the-art technology and learning how to extract and study DNA. They worked to solve a medical question presented in a hypothetical case study.

The morning started with a primer on the science of DNA, as well as information on lab safety. Then the students got to work.

“We didn’t want it to feel just academic – we wanted the students to have a hands-on learning experience,” said Lucy Gansauer, research lab manager at Gibbs, a division of Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.

Funding for the camp came from the Gibbs Cancer Center Translational Research Fund, managed and supported by the Spartanburg Regional Foundation. A grant from the Foundation will enable Gansauer and Christensen to pilot the program on a larger scale in 2018.

Gansauer and Christensen were looking for students who would both enjoy and benefit the most from the experience. Educators with Spartanburg County School District 7 selected the six students.

One goal was to expose students to careers in science research. Christensen noted that in addition to medical labs like the one at Gibbs, many industries employ scientific researchers.

“You can do a whole lot of things with research lab skills,” she said.

That’s exactly why Carver principal Nicole Thompson was excited for her students to have the opportunity. Carver is part of the growing STEM movement – STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – and Thompson said her staff works hard to expose students to related career fields.

“We thought this was just an awesome opportunity for some of our students to do some hands-on learning and to get some valuable exposure,” Thompson said.

Thompson added that Carver frequently partners with companies, colleges and other organizations in the area and said she is grateful for the support of the Gibbs research team.

Christensen works under the leadership of Timothy Yeatman, MD, president of Gibbs. Yeatman’s team studies the DNA makeup of malignant tumors in an effort to learn more about possible treatments.

Advances in cancer research are taking place in Spartanburg and in labs across the country. Christensen and Gansauer are enthusiastic about the potential for new discoveries and new avenues to fight cancer.

And they know that cultivating future generations of scientists is a key. They’re excited to do their part.

“There are some really smart kids out there,” Christensen said. “They just need this kind of opportunity.”

Learn more and donate to the Gibbs Translational Research fund