The Young Scholar’s Research on Rare Cells and What It Means for the Future of Medicine
- Understanding rare cells and leveraging them in specific treatments can be a key milestone in science and medicine.
- With the right education available and necessary direction through targeted research programs, young scholars can make invaluable breakthroughs.
- These research programs can empower even greater collaboration among young scholars, encourage curiosity in the early stages of their professional development, and create a perfect environment for scientific advancements to change the future of medicine.
- Finally, these research programs with promising young minds leading the way can deliver smarter, more personalized treatment options, and boost the quality of human lives for the long haul.
Although your body is continuously working to replace old cells with new, healthy cells, your body is made up of anywhere between 30 and 40 trillion cells at any given time. These minuscule, yet essential units of life hold many answers to why and how diseases occur and what we can do to stay healthy and resilient. However, since every cell has a specific function, it often boils down to pinpointing the role and purpose of a single cell to understand why it mutates and causes disease.
Enter: rare cells, also known as minor cell types, which are less prevalent in our tissue than their more common counterparts, major cell types. They include cells ranging from circulating tumor cells, all the way to antigen-specific T cells, often defining how a certain type of cancer will develop and to what extent our body develops an immune response to it.
Understanding how these rare cells function has become one of medicine’s most prolific and promising research areas for young scholars. The goal of researching rare cells is to deliver disease-specific, but also person-specific treatment options that will revolutionize patient care, prevention, and medicine as a whole.
Empowering global collaboration efforts
While each research facility operates as an individual entity, specific research programs scattered across the globe can and should collaborate beyond their borders. Young scholars researching rare cells, for example, stand a far better chance to understand their subject matter and apply better, more refined research methods when openly communicating with other research facilities.
The conclusions and data from a single research program can fuel the progress of another, and this cycle of mentorship and collaboration serves so much more than advancing individual research careers – which is the key reason most researchers join these programs to begin with, to make a difference, on a global scale.
Leveraging our immune system against cancer
Since rare cells play a vital role in the formation and detection of cancer, it only stands to reason that these young scholar research programs might hold the key to discovering and creating new cancer treatment options, too. Some research projects focus on immune cell types such as plasmacytoid dendritic cells, or pDCs for short, that are known for helping us combat viral infections, but seem to have the potential to help battle cancer, too.
Dr. Chow Kwan Ting of CityU researches that particular type of rare cells and how they can help our own immune systems defeat cancer. With the help of these and other rare cells, we can gain a deeper understanding of how our immune system works and how we can stimulate specific cells to slow the progression of the disease. More young scholar projects targeting such rare cells means more access to invaluable data and a future with highly personalized immunotherapy targeting cancer.
One might logically assume that the role of a biologist in these research programs is pivotal to making great strides and reaching medicine-changing discoveries. Alas, one scientific field is far from enough to accomplish so much. Young scholar research programs striving to empower such breakthroughs need to enable collaboration on an entirely different level: cross-disciplinary collaboration.
For example, algorithms necessary to recognize and categorize rare cells are few and often not effective enough, which means IT experts are as crucial as biologists in this field. To help advance this pursuit, Delhi-based researchers have developed FiRE, which stands for Finder of Rare Entities, an algorithm specifically designed to quickly scan large sums of data and spot rare cells to help advance medical studies in the right direction. Simply put, cross-collaboration among young scholars in different, yet complementary fields can be incredibly helpful for the future of medicine and cancer treatment, alike.
Rethinking medical research careers
Opening the doors of rare cell research to more diverse participants carries the potential to change the impact of these programs altogether. As much as it matters what the subject matter of each program is, it’s equally relevant to make room for inclusiveness in the field. More research programs and universities are recognizing the importance of such a mindset, and more are looking to embrace the Meyerhoff model of STEM inclusivity.
At the University of Maryland, the home to this diversity-oriented program, the three decades of academic excellence and increasing retention rates are a testament to scientific diversity – making it possible even in exceptionally narrow fields such as rare cell research. By actively encouraging young scholars from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds to participate in such programs, and by making them available for study, universities can effectively enable more collaboration, discoveries, and innovation along the way.
Every rare cell-focused research program for young scholars holds tremendous potential for changing the direction of medicine. They are designed to inspire young minds to focus on the most promising work with practical implications for medicine and real-life value. It might be a slow process, but one that is already yielding great results, enabling individual young scientists as well as entire research groups to collaborate, innovate, and bring more powerful solutions to light.