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Students intern at National Cancer Institute

June 23, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

FREDERICK, MD.

By the fifth day on the job, the high school senior knew how to clip DNA for insertion into bacteria cells.

His fellow intern, another high school student, knew how to copy portions of DNA.

The Washington County students hope their work, part of a yearlong internship program at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, will help in the ongoing efforts to find a cure for cancer.

"What I might discover might help someone else," said intern Atlee Baker, 17, of Hagerstown.

Atlee and Alex Ray, a senior at South Hagerstown High School, are among 63 student interns for the Werner H. Kristen program. They are the only students from Washington County participating in the competitive internship program, said Emily Moler, a volunteer coordinator at the National Cancer Institute. Student interns receive a stipend during the summer, but are not paid during the school year, Moler said.

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Interns are picked by mentors through a lengthy process, said Barbara Birnman, a program spokeswoman.

"It takes eight weeks just to process the paperwork," Birnman said.

Eventually, the students start working on their own projects, said Xin Wang, Atlee's mentor.

"He'll be working on his project pretty soon," Wang said.

Atlee, a senior at Smithsburg High School, works under a team of scientists in the protein dynamics and signaling wing at the National Cancer Institute. The scientists are studying the life cycles of cells, Atlee said.

"If they can speed up the rate of death of a cancer cell, they can induce that into other cancer cells," said Atlee, who lives in Hagerstown.

Much of what Atlee does involves fruit flies and mice cells, not to mention cooking up lab "recipes," some of which require an ingredient a cook might use in a home kitchen - dry milk.

"That one was unexpected for me," Atlee said.

Alex works in the viral epidemiology lab, where scientists are trying to determine whether there's a link between cancer and herpes viruses, Alex said.

"It's very similar to the HPV vaccine," Alex said, comparing his research to a recent breakthrough regarding the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus often linked to cervical cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration recently announced its approval of a vaccine that would prevent infection from four types of HPVs. The vaccine is based on research and technology developed at the National Cancer Institute, institute officials said.

Alex said he has mixed success when trying to explain what he does to his parents.

"My dad has no idea what I'm talking about, so he's just like, 'Yeah, that's cool,'" Alex said.

Outside of work, Alex enjoys swimming and "the basics" of teen life.

"Movies and music and stuff," he said.

Atlee enjoys running, tennis and reading.

Both students said they hope to pursue careers in science. Atlee, who said he always has known he wanted to be a scientist, has not determined which scientific field he likes the most.

"I didn't have my mind made up to see if I wanted to do this," Atlee said. "This, in practice, will show me if this is what I really want to do."

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