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The future of cancer treatment in the CSRA is here

There isn’t a single business, employee, or family in the CSRA that hasn’t been touched by cancer. The number of doctors who treat cancer is shrinking as the need for cancer treatment is growing. But the future of cancer treatment in our area is getting a boost from the Georgia Cancer Center’s mobile lab.

The center brought its mobile lab to Richmond County’s A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School where students are training to join the healthcare industry. The timing is great considering the demand for cancer treatment is expected to grow by 40% as the population ages.

Gowned and gloved, the students learned how doctors test for illness, specifically in this case for cancers, using real-world equipment from the center’s Mobile Cancer Molecular Biology Lab Experience for Local High Schools.

“This opportunity for our students to participate in cancer research at this level is just very profound,” said Principal, Emily Driggers. “For them to be afforded the opportunity to hear about and to see careers in action in the bio-cancer biomedical workforce is just so critical to helping our students and it really impacts our curriculum in a positive way.”

Driggers said the students are taking higher-level math and science courses, but this kind of hands-on learning shows real-world applications.

The lab was developed by the cancer center’s Dr. Yuen Keng Ng. He was one of six researchers to receive a grant from funds raised during the 2021 Paceline ride.

“We’re using equipment here that most of the schools do not have,” explained Dr. Rhea-Beth Markowitz, Director of the Office of Grant Development at Augusta University. “We bring it all in and Dr. Ng leads the students through doing the experiment. What they’re going to be doing is analyzing some samples to see if there is a presence of a mutation that is characteristic of a type of leukemia.”

Dr. Ng’s instruction for future medical workers in the cancer field is timely. In 2023, 1,958,310 new cancer cases and 609,820 cancer deaths are projected to occur in the United States.

The healthcare industry, from the sole practitioner to Augusta’s multiple full-service hospitals and research facilities, is one of the largest employers in the area. That requires a constant source of educated, trained, and qualified workers at all levels. Having medical professionals come into the schools gives students the opportunity to learn what will be expected of them.

“We are giving them an experience at an early age, earlier than the regular student would get,” explained Markowitz. “And in particular, we’re taking the mobile lab to schools where there are minorities and where the schools may not be the best equipped. Plus, part of the experience, when we’re doing incubations and have downtime, Dr. Ng will be talking to them about careers in cancer research and what lies ahead.”

The equipment students are using at Richmond County’s A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School is not used in most schools and gives students an opportunity to have a better understanding of cancer research.

Workforce development is a large component of a Memorandum of Understanding signed Monday, between Augusta University and Savannah River Nuclear Lab. Dr. Tammy Taylor, associate lab director for global security at SRNL, said the partnership will create a pipeline of well-educated potential employees. She said hiring local people can provide the additional benefit of a stable workforce.

Principal Driggers agrees, “Our students are vested in the community, they’ve got family here,” she said, “So, as we prepare these young students to enter colleges and careers, we want them to know that they have opportunities right here, right here in their hometown. And then, we also want those employers to know that our students are here, they’re willing, and they’re capable.”

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