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Joel Lobban

Start Of A New Adventure

30 June 2021

Life is full of adventures and experiences that are truly special and unique. During our lifetimes, we meet our ‘family’, grow in character, and breathe in the hardships and beauties of life. The ocean of life is vast and turbulent at times, but with each experience comes understanding and appreciation, and importantly the opportunity to learn. So far, the waters have taken me through emergency medical situations--freeing those in human trafficking--and most recently, serving this country. Now, I have been given another amazing opportunity to be a part of something bigger: cancer research. The world knows me as private first class Lobban, but my family calls me Joel; and this is the start of my new adventure.

“I wanted to get involved with the Fox Chase Cancer Center and delve deeper into the realms of research.”

A few years ago, I wanted to get involved with the Fox Chase Cancer Center and delve deeper into the realms of research. I felt unqualified and unsure of myself to say the least, but I knew that I wanted to be a part of the greater good. I was in awe of how the Fox Chase staff cared so much about making people feel happy and returning them to their families and friends. I could see a lot of the heart in the work done here, so I applied to a fellowship for undergraduates interested in learning more about research, despite my apprehensions. Unfortunately,  my efforts fell short: I was not initially selected for the fellowship.

Despite being disappointed, I took it all in stride as sometimes opportunities do not arrive at the right time or the right place. Instead I took the time to join the US Army, learn new skills and continue to challenge myself.  In fact, it’s only been only a few months since I returned home. While away, my time to undergo another adventure was waiting for me. This time around it seemed like I was finally prepared for this new adventure. In the end, I was accepted to the fellowship!

Now, I’m a full month into the fellowship where I have been tasked to observe colorectal cancer and help determine why cancer often becomes resistant to drug treatment. I joined the crew of Drs. James Duncan, Carlos Herrera Montavez, Daniela Araiza, Alison Kurimchak, and Sarah to combat this issue. Learning with them and being welcomed to their domain has truly been an honor and privilege.

The team investigates the genes KRAS and MEK, which to put simply, are constantly causing issues in colorectal cancer. By examining cell lines and visualizing protein by Western blots, we are able to observe the effectiveness of different drug therapies on breast and ovarian cancer. I look forward to the upcoming weeks, learning how to possibly block these genes in order to have better treatments for those suffering with these cancers. I’m truly excited for what’s to come!

The Journey

29 July 2021

Time is flying by, and nothing is slowing it down! There are only a few weeks left of the fellowship and the climax approaches! Going through this experience really introduced the life of a researcher to me. From the technical skills to the more grandiose life lessons, this summer has allowed me to dive deeper into bringing order to chaos. Coming into my own, depending on the team, and progressing towards the mission, has cultivated towards one spectacular adventure!

My lab, starting from week 3, entrusted me to run experiments independently and follow up on my e results. Going from joining this new world and experiencing sensory overload, to exploring it by myself, was quite the shift. Mastering the techniques and gathering all necessary resources was a challenge. Managing my time, prioritizing, and creating a plan to approach the problem was put to the test. The training wheels really got taken off and a full experience of being a researcher was in full throttle. Up to this point, I have been met with many failures and dead ends but have also found small glimmers of hope.

“Appreciating the small success and seeing the growth in ability and understanding over time motivated me to continue towards the mission, helping those with cancer.”

Since creating and planning the experiment, Western blots and I have become best friends. So much so that I have started teaching a lab volunteer how to master the technique (the student becomes the teacher…). Visualizing different proteins to see if they inhibit or affect the expression of KRAS, a protein often found in cancer cells, has been a journey. I keep telling myself that discovery takes time, patience, and discipline. Appreciating the small success and seeing the growth in ability and understanding over time motivated me to continue towards the mission, helping those with cancer.

Although my early experiments were largely unsuccessful, some of my data has allowed the team to narrow down the candidates used for further investigation. As my lab manager said, “sometimes a negative result is a good result, since it allows us to focus our direction.” That it did, we now have proteins of interest that may lead to new experiments, which means there may be a chance for a better treatment for patients. Now we have a lead with the proteins PARP, pERK, and AKT. This was all possible by trusting the team, accepting failure, and remembering the significance of the work, really makes one value the journey.
 

Another Journey Ends...

23 August 2021

“The fellowship was a struggle for me as I was out of my comfort zone for a majority of it. However, the amount of growth I experienced because of the fellowship was unrivaled compared to other internships I've done.”

The time for the fellowship journey has come to a close. The adventure was challenging, rewarding, and a pleasure to behold. Going into the final weeks really pushed me to think more critically and creatively about research. The culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears was put into one last push for the research adventure; presenting the project. Seeing my understanding and growth along the entirety of the fellowship was amazing.

Putting together all the pieces and having the support of my peers really made the final symposium, and my presentation special. Being able to represent the lab, the research, and my experience in the fellowship felt cathartic. It felt like a celebration of the relationships, effort, and information learned over my time in the fellowship. The fellowship was a struggle for me as I was out of my comfort zone for a majority of it. However, the amount of growth I experienced because of the fellowship was unrivaled compared to other internships I’ve done.

The skills along with the life lessons that I’ve learned during this fellowship will be with me for a long time. I found that I do not want to pursue research within the wet lab environment (and that’s a good thing to figure out what you want and what you don’t). However, I developed skills I know I’ll be using in the near future and relationships I wish to maintain after my time in the fellowship. This was truly an amazing opportunity to be a part of and I met so many wonderful people because of it. I may have found the environment was not for me, but the people and lessons I took away are invaluable.

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