Michaela Wascher-Disney may have discovered a new career path this summer.
Wascher-Disney, a rising senior at Governors State University, spent part of her summer conducting cancer research as a NCI P20 grant intern called GUIDE (Governors State University – UI Cancer Center Disparity Education). The project prepares college students and junior faculty for careers in cancer disparities research by equipping them with the skills and abilities to respond to the rapidly-changing landscape of health inequities in Chicago’s south side and growing south suburban and rural communities.
After receiving a flyer from one of her research professors, Wascher-Disney was intrigued about the program. A psychology student who works as a caregiver, nursing assistant and mental health technician in a hospital, Wascher-Disney knew she wanted to pursue a career in the health care field. She was, however, undecided whether she was interested in research and decided to apply for the internship in hopes of finding out.
“Before my internship, I never really knew the depths of cancer research and what it entails in finding different treatments,” she said. “Coming into the UI Cancer Center, I discovered there are a lot of resources that I never really knew about."
“It’s really cool to me that there are a lot of free services offered to families from low-income areas – vehicles to get them to and from appointments, free cancer screenings… they even have genetic counseling and genetic testing. I came away gaining a lot of new information. I’m really happy with the program.” Many of these services are provided through UI Cancer Center’s partnerships with the Illinois Department of Public, Chicago Department of Public Health and other extramural sponsors.
During her summer internship, Wascher-Disney focused on collecting data on family genetics and analyzing it to learn if there are high risks present for breast cancer. She used screening tools including CancerIQ for oncologists and other providers to identify risks by initiating screening processes earlier.
Programs such as NCI’s P20 grant mechanism like the GUIDE Project supports the development of interdisciplinary programs that offer potential solutions to problems of special significance to the mission of the National Institutes of Health.. They are traditionally granted to cancer centers that have been designated as such by the National Cancer Institute, but the UI Cancer Center was selected due to its status as a minority serving institution and its partnership with another minority serving institution, Governors State. The UI Cancer Center is the first non-designated cancer center to receive a P20 grant. Robert Winn, MD, director of the UI Cancer Center, serves as a principal investigator on the grant.
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