October 24, 2013

Health Science Center Professor Opens Research Doors With Outreach Program

When Texas A&M and Vanderbilt University take the field on Saturday a battle will take place to see who will go home the winner.

But for Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) professor and researcher Dr. Robin Fuchs-Young, the game will also demonstrate the crossroads of her educational journey.

“It’s important for people to go out into the world and have new experiences and learn how different institutions and scientists handle what they do,” Fuchs-Young said.

Dr. Fuchs Young with students

Dr. Fuchs-Young received her doctoral degree in pathology from Vanderbilt University, and now conducts research on breast cancer at TAMHSC. Photo: Texas A&M University

Dr. Fuchs-Young received her doctoral degree in pathology from Vanderbilt University, and now conducts research on breast cancer at TAMHSC.

“The training I had at Vanderbilt laid the foundation for everything I did after,” Fuchs-Young said. “The skills that I learned there made all of the difference in the world.”

Since pathology is a clinical department at Vanderbilt, Fuchs-Young was able to not only take medical school classes, but also to relate her research to human disease, which laid the groundwork for her focus on breast cancer research.

“My experiences at Vanderbilt really prepared me for the kind of work that I do now,” Fuchs-Young said. “My research is very translational. We’re interested in what causes breast cancer, why some people get it and others don’t, and why some women survive and other do not.”

Fuchs-Young was a faculty member at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for more than 15 years before moving to Aggieland in 2012. One of the major factors in her decision to join TAMHSC was the emphasis on education and an appreciation of her dual focus, on breast cancer and health disparities research and also on outreach programs that target underrepresented minorities in science and underserved communities.

“Researchers are interested in diversity because it’s a better way to solve problems. Bringing a wide variety of perspectives and experiences to the table increases our chances of fixing complex problems.” Fuchs-Young said. “Diversity makes medicine better. It makes science better.”

To enhance diversity in science and medicine,  Fuchs-Young developed a 10-week summer research program for undergraduate and high school students, allowing them, to get a feel for what a career in research is really like.  After joining the TAMHSC faculty, she became a member of the steering committee for the summer research program for medical and undergraduate students in the College of Medicine. Throughout these experiences, she found that some of the summer research students find their true calling, while others discover that research is not their cup of tea. And then there are the times when students don’t believe that they could be successful at research.

“Sometimes students come in thinking that they have to be superhuman to be good at research. They often leave realizing that it’s hard, but that it’s hard for all of us,” Fuchs-Young said.  “This is when you see a real change in people. They finally say ‘I can do this.’ And then you say ‘Yes, you can – and I’ll help you.’”

The medical field is constantly changing , which requires physicians to stay up-to-date with new developments. These summer research programs also teach students how to incorporate new ideas and information into their thinking,, whether in the laboratory or the clinical setting.

“After this program, students will at least understand the experimental design process and how it works. Even if they decide that a career in research isn’t for them, it allows them to better evaluate their work and incorporate new findings and ideas into their work,” Fuchs-Young said.

So what about her own research? A recent study by Dr. Fuchs-Young and her team revealed that diet during gestation could have a major impact on whether or not someone develops breast cancer.

“I think that this study will turn out to be very important,” she explained. “Other researchers have found that early life exposures have an impact on breast cancer susceptibility. Now we have good data showing that diet is one of the important factors affecting susceptibility.”

With this newfound information, the battle on Saturday against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt is only a small part of an even bigger fight: finding victory in a cure for breast cancer.

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Texas A&M Health Science Center is transforming health through innovative research and education in biomedical sciences, dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health. A unit of Texas A&M University, the health science center serves the state through campuses in Bryan-College Station, Dallas, Temple, Houston, Round Rock, Kingsville, Corpus Christi and McAllen.

Media contact: Blair Williamson, at (979) 436-0617 

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