Wrapping Up Summer 2017

When I first arrived at UT Austin, I was overwhelmed. The university was so big. There were so many new techniques to learn. I had to integrate myself into a new group of people I had never known. I had never been away from home for an extended period of time. For someone still new to college and scientific research, it was overwhelming. After the first week, it was smoother sailing. I made new friends and went on exciting adventures in the city of Austin. Research was still a challenge throughout my summer experience, but challenges and difficulties are how people develop and grow. I was constantly problem solving and thinking of what I could do to improve my experiment. I learned a lot from my ten-week period here.

Summer scholars from various programs at UT in front of the main tower. Photo by Dalton Kotinilek.

I didn’t just learn new research skills, I learned new life skills.

I will carry this new knowledge and continue to build upon it as I continue my college career.

The research I did here was great and will help propel me forward, but the real fun came in exploring the city of Austin with great new people. This city has so much to offer. There was something interesting and exciting around every corner. Even in ten weeks there still wasn’t enough time to experience everything Austin has to offer. I think the experience was elevated more because of the new people around me. Everyone had something to bring to the table and they created a sense of belonging in this new community we joined. Overall the summer experience was a lot of work and a lot of fun. It was worth every second.

Andrew Rios, University of Texas at El Paso

Posted in 2017, austin, fun, learning

Letter to 2017 Texas 4000 Riders

Gabby at her research poster on August 3, 2017. Photo by Jill Ortner.


My name is Gabby. I wanted to start off this letter first by saying thank you for your support and your dedication toward fighting cancer. The Texas 4000 program is a big part of what makes research experiences like mine and my coworkers’ possible, and the number of lives you touch through your efforts is incredible. So, for that I’d like to say thank you.

Secondly, I wanted to say congratulations on making it this far. You’re almost there! Even though I’ve never been on a biking expedition like yours, I know that it’s easy to fall into the routine of things and not realize how much you’ve accomplished. So, I invite you to take a moment to look back on this summer’s experiences and reflect on what you’ve learned and achieved. (I learned how to culture macrophages in gels for experiments.)

I hope you are all doing well, and I wish you luck during these last few days to Anchorage. Thank you for all you do!


Gabby Pérez-Lozano, Carnegie Mellon University

Posted in 2017, cancer, texas4000

Cancer Research Update

As the summer dwindles down, we can reflect on the progress that has been made throughout the summer. Not only have we developed lasting friendships, improved our scientific communication skills, and explored Austin, but we have conducted seven weeks of research! Working at the lab has brought out the best in us and has made us immerse ourselves, not only into research papers, but into lab life. On a daily basis, we have gone in and out of lab, each day learning a new concept, new ideas, and having many questions as we walked out. We may now proceed to the next step and present all that we have learned and what has yet to be discovered.

As for me, I’m just attempting to add a little contribution to the large pool of cancer research. Throughout this summer, I have worked in a medical device laboratory, attempting to develop a catheter for convection enhanced delivery to glioblastomas. So far, convection enhanced delivery is causing backflow of the infused therapeutics. In order to solve this problem, I have been trying to create a pressure driven system. So far, I have been able to narrow down a pressure range in which there is no backflow during infusions.  Thankfully, the results that I have been collecting prove that the volume distributed is still optimal while diminishing the amount of backflow shown. Now we can proceed to develop a system that can computationally keep a consistent pressure throughout an infusion.

The image displays the distribution patterns of the infusate and demonstrates no reflux. I took this image at the lab during one of my experiments.

-Bianca Montano, University of Texas at El Paso

Posted in 2017, cancer, reflections

Importance of a Cancer Community

A centrifuge, very useful tool in most fields of research and science. Photo by Dalton Kotilinek.

Undoubtedly, the most important part of any community is a sense of togetherness. In the case of a cancer research community, the thing that binds us all together is that we have the same goal: to help people affected by cancer. This may range from developing new medicines to help treat cancer or new methods to detect early onset of cancer. By having a sense of togetherness, we support each other in knowing that it’s not just one of us trying to find a cure or new method of detection, but an entire group of people coming together.

In the case of people affected by cancer, whether it be actual patients or families of the patients, they’re all bound together through their personal experiences with the affliction. These personal experiences bring people together through charities and support groups. This summer I saw one way how this brings people together, the Texas 4000 Riders. They spread cancer awareness, hope, and raise money for charity all while cycling a grueling 4000+ miles. In one way or another, these individuals were somehow affected by cancer and that brought them together.

Perhaps the most important part of a cancer community is knowing you’re not alone in whatever you may be enduring.

-Dalton Kotilinek, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

Posted in 2017, cancer

Letter to Texas 4000 Rider: Basil Hariri

San Jacinto recreation field at dusk. Photo by Elana Helou

Dear Basil,

My name is Elana, and I am also the child of Lebanese immigrants, so I truly relate to the feeling that all my accomplishments are only made possible by my parents’ sacrifices. Growing up, I always felt that I should be working towards something that would make their sacrifices worthwhile. So, once I was old enough to truly understand the extent that cancer and other diseases were affecting my family members, I decided that I wanted to work as a medical researcher to help bring relief to families all around the world that were experiencing some of these same effects.

My interest in research is largely fueled by experiences with people who I have known for most of my life, so I really found it inspiring that your story about why you ride focused on someone you only encountered for a few hours. I felt that it truly resonated with the fact that cancer is universal and affects so many people in so many ways, which can be easy to lose sight of when someone very close to you is fighting their own battle with the disease.

I admire your dedication to and courage in fighting cancer through your own physical toil, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your journey.

Elana Helou, Smith College

Posted in 2017, cancer, research, texas4000

Deliberate Practice: Becoming an Expert

Constant, albeit creepy, reminder for us scientists to practice wearing our Personal Protective Equipment. Photo by Gabriel Garcia.

“Practice makes perfect,” just one of many clichéd inspirational sayings anyone can find passing a Hallmark store. One of many iterations our parents continuously drill into our minds as we make our way through life.  Even though the phrase may have lost meaning through its advertisement in society, the message it carries still holds true and will probably continue to do so for the many years to come, until society transcends into the highest form of intelligence (if at all possible). Everything we do in our everyday lives requires practice; the theory of evolution, the progression of life itself, is an inherent form of practice (survival of the fittest, adaptation, etc.). Our species has evolved in technological, social, political and spiritual aspects through the use of practice.

Clearly, then, practice can be applied to almost anything, including our short-lived summer research in the field of cancer.

Scientists have dedicated their wholes lives to a single field in science and still come up short in understanding, so it would be rather arrogant to claim that we can become experts in the field of cancer by the coming month through “practice”. What I will suggest is that we can become experts of ourselves through practice; experts in being on time, in taking notes of your everyday methods and findings, even experts in managing our finances. Do not continue this journey with the mindset of just learning about cancer or proper cell culture techniques, learn about each of your own shortcomings and how to fix them through practice. This work ethic will diffuse into your lab work and everyday life, and make things easier to deal with. Of course, this is not to diminish the importance of improving lab techniques. We should all strive to continuously improve ourselves and our work ethics, as both ultimately affect the progress of our society and societal standards.

-Gabriel Garcia, The University of Texas at El Paso

Posted in 2017, learning, research

Bowling in the Union Underground

Texas Union Underground, photo by Ian Davis

In a scene reminiscent of The Big Lebowski, a handful of us summer research scholars congregated in the depths of the Union Underground bowling alley for the ultimate showdown of dexterity (and free pizza). After strapping on our fluorescent bowling shoes and setting up the score monitors, we prepared to wreak havoc on the competition—that is, until someone asked “wait, where are the bumpers?

I failed to strike a single pin during the first round. But similarly to bowling without bumpers, research also comes with varying degrees of success. Maybe your lab is critically low on a certain chemical which is essential to the advancement of a project. Or maybe an expensive piece of instrumentation needed to run vital assays is out of order. Or maybe you accidentally incubated a cell plate with a known toxin, potentially creating an uncontrolled mutant cell line (hypothetically speaking here). Impediments like these can be frustrating, or even defeating in some cases, such as the Underground’s on-screen animation of a dancing bowling pin informing me I had consecutively landed the ball in the gutter.

Texas Union Underground, photo by Ian Davis

But these hindrances only represent the worst days spent conducting research, and the satisfaction of bouncing back turns these roadblocks into speed bumps. Patience and encouragement are key, whether it be bowling a 300 or experimenting with novel cancer treatments.

-Ian Davis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Posted in 2017, fun

Letter to Texas 4000 Rider Thomas Chavez

Photo of Austin from the Graffiti Wall, by Octavio Cordova, Jr.

Dear Thomas,

I found you relatable as we both came out of El Paso, Texas. As I kept reading your profile I enjoyed your type of personality. The way you are up and about with all the things around is a lot like me and that probably led me to enjoy your profile a lot more. I love the reasons why you ride and in my opinion family will always be the greatest motivators of all. As I took similar motivations towards starting my career path. This can be a crazy experience you are having, but at the end like it was said you wish it never ended.

So don’t forget to always say Yes and experience the little things inside the bigger experience. I have a feeling you already saying yes to everything from what I have read in your profile.

Stay strong and keep on going. As you work hard on the bike, I’ll be working hard inside the lab.

El Pas natives saying hi to you! by Octavio Cordova, Jr


Octavio Cordova Jr., University of Texas at El Paso

Thomas Chavez is a UT Austin Junior majoring in BioChemistry, currently riding to Alaska with Texas 4000 on the Rockies 2017 team.

Posted in 2017, texas4000

The Emperor of All Maladies

The Emperor of All Maladies book, Photo by Daria Bentley

I will be the first to admit that when Dr. Suggs told us we had to read a 472-page book, I was not exactly excited. Honestly, I was dreading it.  It was another task on top of all the research papers and lab duties. The book is The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Dr. Suggs said this book would help us to learn even more about the fight against cancer, the history, and think about the big picture even within our very specific research projects.

I started reading it and I was beyond interested in the material. It was not a typical scientific book with a whole bunch of words I would not know or understand. It was an easy read with lots of purpose. The author, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, has demonstrated how the fight against cancer is not just one person, but includes all of us. He explains the evolution of cancer from the political, social, and emotional standpoint.

I have just started this book and I am already drawn in. I hope The Emperor of All Maladies will not only be a fantastic read, but also something that allows me to keep my research in perspective. We do our research in the hopes to discover new methods and devices to save lives, and this book helps remind myself why the research is so important. Each of our research projects is just a small piece of the puzzle in the fight against cancer.

-Daria Bentley, Southern University and A&M College

Posted in 2017, cancer, learning

Research Dedications

Lab Bench. Credit: Guillermo Beckmann.

Through our stay here at UT Austin, each Friday before going to work on our individual Labs, we dedicate the week to something. This in order to motivate us to continue working to a cure and better understanding of cancer. The idea was borrowed from the Texas 4000, that is an organization that rides 4000 miles to raise funds for cancer research. Cancer has impacted many lives, and everyone has their own individual story and their own reason to want to beat cancer. Everyone, no matter what their dedications and intentions, is invested in trying to defeat this serious threat that kills millions of people everyday world-wide.

Sometimes the dedications don’t have to be in a personal way but it is always something to keep the importance of our research in mind. Sometimes we dedicate to the people that are affected by cancer, and sometimes to the adventures and new thing we will learn that week in our labs and our life. Overall, we have to keep reminding ourselves and everyone that research and fighting against cancer will benefit everyone. As well as it will make us, the researchers, grow personally as a person and build on our skills to become better in our research.

Guillermo Beckmann, University of Texas at El Paso

Yahir, Andrew, Gabriel, Bianca, Guillermo, and Octavio.

Posted in 2017, austin, cancer, research