Stuyvesant Offers New Cancer Research Elective

The Biology Department is offering a new elective, Cancer Research, which will teach students the mechanisms of cancer and allow them to perform inquiry-based research.

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The biology department is offering a new elective this semester, Cancer Research, which will teach students the mechanisms of cancer and allow them to perform inquiry-based research. The one-semester class, open to sophomores but mostly comprised of juniors, is being taught by biology teacher Jason Econome, who has been a researcher in the field for over 10 years.

Econome took part in The American Physiological Society's 2018 Frontiers in Physiology Research Community Leaders Professional Development Fellowship program. As part of the program, he spent last summer at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research with a globally-renowned lupus scientist, a scientist studying a disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, in hopes of passing on his knowledge of research techniques and the scientific process to Stuyvesant students.

Econome pushed for the elective and found the approval process fairly simple. “We’re implementing research which gets everyone excited in the biology [department] and [Principal Eric] Contreras was excited as well. This is a science-oriented school, so this is what we live for,” Econome said.

The elective will provide students with the opportunity to design and conduct their own controlled experiments to investigate how organisms react to extreme situations. However, Econome plans to balance learning content in the classroom with applying the topics in the lab setting. The course begins with lectures and activities meant to familiarize students with the mechanisms of cancer. Simultaneously, students will delve into research projects and academic papers. Once given a primer for cancer, which allows the disease to be identified, students will begin the experimental process using simple organisms, such as yeast and C. elegans.

Students are expected to understand aspects of both cancer and the research process upon completion of the course. In addition to grasping the fundamentals of cancer and applying them to cancer prevention measures, students should be able to operate in a laboratory setting. “I hope [students] will take away […] how to work independently and be able to design their own experiments, which is something that is missing at Stuyvesant, but a much-needed skill for college and any type of research career,” Econome said.

Cancer Research stands out among the wide variety of science courses offered at Stuyvesant due to its research opportunities. In addition, the class has a more relaxed classroom dynamic. “In regular biology, you often rush to copy down as many notes as possible, but in Econome’s class, it’s not unusual to see kids just listen to what he has to say and admire the pictures of cells on the board,” sophomore Michael Nath said in an e-mail interview.

The class was in high demand and many of the students taking it are enthusiastic and looking forward to the rest of the term. For some, this class is making a real impact on their personal lives. “I have family members [who] are dealing with cancer so I wanted to learn more about it, how to fight it, and what medical breakthroughs have occurred,” sophomore Sharnom Chowdhury said.