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Learning by ‘Sprinting’: UT Undergraduates Tackle Cancer Genomics in an Immersive Event

April 20, 2023

This blog was authored by Jeanne Kowalski-Muegge, Ph.D., professor of oncology at Dell Med, Ginger M. Okoro, MPA, manager of department operations in the Livestrong Cancer Institutes, and Anish Singh, undergraduate student at The University of Texas at Austin.

Molecular-targeted therapy is a key part of the Livestrong Cancer Institutes’ research. Jeanne Kowalski-Muegge, Ph.D., and the Kowalski-Muegge Lab contribute to this work through educational initiatives at the convergence of clinical, cancer and genomics disciplines.

In March, Kowalski-Muegge and her team led an innovative idea to educate 23 undergraduates on molecular-targeted therapies for cancer treatment through a Cancer Genomics SPRINT event held at Dell Med. The event’s concept was based on the College of Natural Sciences’ own “science sprints,” which are all-day events that task participants with addressing a problem after receiving relevant knowledge and resources.

Participants from the Cancer Genomics SPRINT event gather for a group photo outside the Dell Medical School campus.

2023 Cancer Genomics SPRINT participants.

Kowalski-Muegge used this model to design a sprint for undergraduate students to learn about molecular-targeted therapies for cancer treatment. This effort included engaged faculty support from Anna Capasso, M.D., Ph.D., and Nolan Bentley, Ph.D., and additional volunteer support from graduate students Qi Xu and Emily Gavan and undergraduate students Gabrielle Sagullo and Anish Singh.

Combining Clinical Design & Innovation

Students were challenged with the problem of informing a treatment trajectory for a cancer case using molecular profiling results. Students learned in real-time about the disease and biomarkers through both didactic lectures and “playlists” of public resources for the sprint. 

Two separate images collaged together, one atop the other. In the top image, Cancer Genomics SPRINT participants jump for a celebratory group photo. In the bottom photo, Jeanne Kowalski-Muegge and Ginger Okoro stand by event signage.

After the teams researched the case — expanding their learning about genes, treatments, cancers and patient outcomes — they presented their research to the group for a mock student molecular tumor board. At the “finish line,” the team was visited by Texas House of Representatives member Sheryl Cole, who presented an inspiring speech about the importance of the students’ participation in moving cancer research forward.

Coordination and collaboration efforts led by the Kowalski-Muegge Lab and the team of faculty and researchers provided a novel opportunity for students to gain practical experience in cancer genomics and learn about the latest advancements in cancer research. This program is an example of Dell Med’s commitment to innovation in clinical design and education.

Special thanks to the Livestrong Cancer Institutes’ Ginger M. Okoro, who assisted with coordination efforts, and Wenxuan Jiang, who developed and designed the information portal for the event.