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Helios Scholars at TGen Learn Teamwork, Technique, and Tenacity

Author: Steve Yozwiak, Senior Science Writer, TGen

July 27, 2018

Keilen Eidalith Costilla-Martinez learned this summer that she is not afraid to fail in the face of a seemingly insurmountable challenge, taking on a highly aggressive and usually fatal disease — triple-negative breast cancer — in the biomedical labs of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).  

Keilen is one of 45 Helios Scholars at TGen who on Friday will show what she learned during her 8-week summer internship at a daylong scientific symposium at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix.

“Most importantly, I learned that research comes with failure, and that it is okay to make mistakes as long as we don’t stop and lose motivation,” said Keilen, a graduate of Phoenix’s Central High School who wants to pursue a career in precision medicine research.

“Everything I have learned and accomplished at TGen will make me be a better scientist in the future,” said Keilen, who this fall will be a sophomore at Smith College in Massachusetts, where she is majoring in Biochemistry.

Sponsored by Helios Education Foundation, Helios Scholars at TGen provides undergraduate and graduate students, including some in medical school, a paid internship that aims to prepare the next generation of Arizona bioscience researchers and physicians.

Since 2007, 464 students have participated in Helios Scholars at TGen, in which TGen scientists share research expertise and technical skills, bioethics, experimental design, and the translational process of quickly moving laboratory discoveries into new therapeutics to benefit patients with neurological disorders, infectious diseases and many types of cancer.

“Helios Scholars at TGen trains Arizona-based students for the ultra high-tech world of modern biomedical science,” said Paul J. Luna, President and CEO, Helios Education Foundation. “The real-world laboratory experience at TGen is preparing these students for success in college and career as well as helping to strengthen the future knowledge-based workforce in our state.” 

For Helios Scholar Connor Vuong, a graduate of Phoenix’s Desert Vista High School, working this summer on a brain cancer known as glioblastoma taught him how to work as part of a team in TGen’s Brain Tumor Unit.

“I have developed a greater understanding of the scientific method and importance of knowing that each step in an experiment in order to understand where I can improve my results,” said Connor, who will be a senior this fall, majoring in Biochemistry, at Arizona State University. He plans to be a physician. “While I am unsure of what specialty I want to pursue, I want to have the opportunity to apply the novel clinical research being done at TGen, and other institutions across the nation, towards improving patient care.”

Helios Scholars at TGen also is designed to: increase access to academic experiences for underrepresented populations; demonstrate TGen’s and Helios’ leadership in innovative bioscience education; and enable graduates to become peer models who can inspire other students to achieve.

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