The Return to Investigation

One year after graduating from the Ridgefield High School Science Research Program and now having completed college-level introductory Biology, Chemistry, and Math, I am facing a year that could be the polar opposite of the one prior. After holding on to my questions and getting an "I'll get back to you on that" from professors, I finally have the opportunity to launch an investigation. My curiosity can be quenched better than the Wikipedia search under my desk can do. Under the guidance of Dr. Robert Kurt, I will be continuing to research cancer at the college level.

In high school, I chose to research small molecule inhibitors for the treatment of cancer because I thought they were this decade's solution to making chemotherapy just a little bit safer. When asked about next decade's, I would reference immunotherapy. Using the tools your own body gives you to target foreign invaders to attack disease developed internally is simply logical.

Dr. Kurt is a professor of immunology and his research focuses on the involvement of the immune system in cancer. As I read publications from this field in preparation for the semester ahead, I get a sneak preview at the complexity of the world I'm about to explore.

Angela Duckworth says in her 2016 book Grit, "For the beginner, novelty is anything that hasn't been encountered before. For the expert, novelty is nuance." I'm no expert, but the novelty of the immune system in cancer research, to me, is a new approach to the same problem. While it may seem similar, this is not a continuation of my previous work. This is a new project, one that will broaden my skills by weaving together the old and the new experiences and approaches.

To quote Duckworth again, "Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare." Stick with what you enjoy and good things will come.

“Why We Haven’t Cured Cancer”

Last year, SciShow, a YouTube Channel featuring Hank Green, posted a video called “Why We Haven’t Cured Cancer.” In light of recent events (David Bowie, Alan Rickman), I thought I’d share it.

Hank says that people need to stop asking about the cure for cancer because “If every tumor worked the same, we would probably by now have that magic bullet that we needed.” He also says that we have to treat cancer as if it is hundreds of different diseases.

And while it seems like no progress has been made toward treating cancer, for almost 3000 years not a single step was made. “For 3,000 years or more, this disease has been known to the medical profession. And for 3,000 years and more, humanity has been knocking at the door of the medical profession for a “cure.” – Fortune, March 1937

In 1950, the word cancer could not be published in the New York Times. Now, cancer research is in every hospital, publishing research on brand new personalized medicine and genomic therapy. Chemotherapy’s first major trial was tested on 16 children. The 10 that stayed alive for 4-6 months were considered miracles.

If you think about how hard it is now to treat cancer, look back and see how far we’ve come. Then look to the future and see how much farther we have to go.

Information from: Cancer, The Emporer of All Maladies, a Must-Read

(There is also a movie version on Netflix)

I highly recommend you watch the video.


Oh the Places You’ll Go

As this summer comes to a close, I am reflecting on the incredible experiences I’ve had. My book, On The Right Track, is now on sale at Books On the Common in Ridgefield and I was able to complete my research project at the Norris Cotton Cancer Institute at Dartmouth. 

I spent three weeks working in the lab with a team of people wwho were incredibly accepting of a high schoolers entering their lab. Everyone offered to help me with every step of the process and show me all of the projects they were working on. When I first arrived, I was lost. Not only did I not know what anything was or what it did, I couldn’t even find my way around. I needed help with anything and everything. But, very quickly, I started remembering things and getting the hang of processes I had only ever read about before. 

By the end of my time, I felt like a real member of the lab. I came to work early, plated my cells alone, and drugged them up using a sort of recipe card I had made up with the help of the other lab members. I set a timer and set back to wait for their incubation time to be over. 

This process became habitual and I was able to make the combinations more complicated. I factored in giving presentations and observing other people’s research into my schedule. I tried to be a sponge to the knowledge in the room. 

My mentor always said to me that if I know what the outcome is going to be, then there is nothing to test. So while I could’ve predicted what drug combinations we’re going to be effective, I could never have predicted how much other information I was going to learn about cancer treatments by testing that.

On my last day, I was given a copy of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” On each page were handwritten notes from everyone at the lab. Even setting the gesture of the signed book aside, the children’s book has such immense meaning and a month later as I sit four hours away from the lab reading it again, I can’t help but share it with whoever may read this. 

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Update – On the Right Track

I would like to thank everyone who has been so supportive since the release of my book. The release party was very successful and filled with family and friends from all over. Since then, I’ve received so many kind comments from readers, which has been so rewarding.

I’ve recently been interviewed by Jackie Bailey from Navigating Your Fishbowl, see here.  I am  also currently preparing to conduct research at Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center under the guidance of my mentor, Dr. Alan Eastman. We’ve been working together for the past 6 months, developing a plan for experimentation. We plan to spend three weeks testing different protein-targeting drugs to see which could be the most effective for treating leukemia.

Just a quick update before I leave to conduct my research, thanks for everything.

Official Book Release

OnTheRightTrack_MEDIUMThis Sunday, May 17th, 2015, John and I will be releasing our books at the Ridgefield Library from 2-4 p.m. and on Amazon.

We’re beyond excited to share our books with the public after these months of waiting and working very hard on them. My book, On The Right Track, A Student’s Memoir of Research, Advancement and Holding on to Hope, tells the story of my first year in the Science Research Program and how I began researching cancer.

I’ve learned so much about cancer, science and myself over the past two years. This opportunity to self-publish was given to me by Mr. Bryan Holmes. To him and everyone else who helped so much in this process, I can’t thank you enough. It’s been incredible to see my project grow into this.

For more information on the book, feel free to comment or contact me at

Preparing for Publication

After writing and rewriting, my original manuscript has grown into a final copy. With little else to do but finalize changes and convert to paperback, my book will be available for purchase on May  17, 2015.  On the Right Track, A Student’s Memoir of Research, Advancement, and  Holding  on to Hope will be available for purchase on

In my story, l recall  my first year in the Science Research Program at Ridgefield High School. The year truly changed my life. I’ve discovered so  many  incredible things about cancer and  cancer research so far.  I’ve learned about new strategies for treating cancer that have the potential to change the way we think about the disease entirely.

From the research I’ve done, I can tell that research is leading cancer treatments to a place where there will be less side effects and fewer deaths.   New methods  developed in the past few years for detecting cancer have  worked  extremely well.  There are hundreds of new drugs being studied that can go into clinical trials hopefully in the next decade. Progress is being made. I promise.

I hope to provide a taste of the impact and success of cancer research thus far in my book, but also the progress that I’ve made personally.  From emailing researchers to  reading articles,  every step is leading to a better future for those affected by cancer.  Step by step, I’m taking a very long journey, but I know I’m On The Right Track.

Southern Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair 2015

Research and Innovation

This past weekend, the Ridgefield High School Science Research Program attended the 15th annual Southern Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair. Each student competed with a proposed or completed research project they’ve been working on since their first days in the course.

The effort displayed by the students was tremendous and so many were inspired by the projects they saw and the people from all over the state that they met. Students shared ideas from across the lunch table and the aisles between posters. Through the questions asked by judges and the relationships built, it was a learning experience for all.

I’d like to congratulate every student on their successes. Each and every student at the fair proved all of their efforts were aimed at innovating in the science world and enhancing life on our planet. No matter the results, everyone did an incredible job.


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Why Cancer?

From the first days of my time in the Science Research Program, I began reading article after article about anything remotely biological, without focus on any particular field. I dove into researching the effects of toxins in plastics, birth defects, Down syndrome, Hemophilia and anything else that looked appealing from the title of an article.

As time progressed, I came up with the idea of studying how chemicals like BPA affect fetal development, but quickly became bored. One day in class, after scrolling through a science news site, I found a study that used nanodiamonds to increase the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs.

That single article led me to question everything I knew about cancer. I did not originally want to research a disease from personal connection but I found motivation from cancer research to continue learning. Since there are over 200 types of cancer, the most resistant cases will always struggle to find a valuable treatment option. It was the statistic proof that even cancers like breast cancer, which is most often surgical, can be treated with chemotherapy only successfully 1.5% of the time.

The resistance to treatment is what makes cancer so difficult, and finding new, unique ways to target the resistance-promoting factors is what I believe to be the future of cancer research. Any progress in this field that I can contribute to would be an immense success, as the creation of a single drug may help, even at first, dozens of patients survive longer than they might normally, which would be incredible.



What am I thankful for?

After a short time in the Science Research course, (for more information on the course, click here), I realized what about it had appealed to me originally. I knew I wanted to make a difference; I wanted, and still want, to improve the lives of people who are suffering with disease, especially cancer. However small, advancing medicine in any way improves the probability of success in the future. The Science Research community is filled with the great thinkers of tomorrow, the students who will innovate and create to enhance the world we live in. Graduates from the program have already begun applying their research and performing more tests to ensure their validity.

While I am thankful that my research has been successful so far, and that others’ has been as well, this only pushes me to go further with it. To accept that research into specific Bcl-2/Mcl-1 cancer treatments has been improving in recent years would only pause their development. With no time to stop and smell the roses, I am thankful for the incredible opportunity that I have been given, and reflecting on this pushes me to reach for the success others have achieved. I keep my original goal in mind and fuel my progress with the success of my peers.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the community of innovators I am honored to work with each day, the success of the program’s recent graduates, and every small step in the creation of new cancer treatments. I’m thankful for the health of my family and friends and I can only wish for the health of all people suffering with cancer and other illnesses right now.



Research in High School?

cropped-center-for-research“I have never been able to say that a class has changed me, but The Ridgefield High School Science Research Program is no more a “class” than Google is a webpage. It has taken off from an academic course to a family of students who journey together from early curiosity to self discovery in the science research world. In the process, the students learn how to professionally and appropriately express themselves and share their message with others. This community of learners grows in their abilities not only in science, but in their real-world skills that help a student in every class. Along with these skills, the students also are awarded with incredible opportunities including conducting authentic research and entering elite science competitions. Students’ ‘topics’ are not just projects, these are the ideas that will fuel the future of research and innovation.”

While reflecting on the Science Research course for a post on its website, see here, I was reminded again of the incredibly unique opportunity I have been given to live in a town with a program like this and to be accepted in a community of learners who help each other grow and develop as students and professionals. Most can agree that large scale research in high school is nearly impossible, but this group of students and friends strives to achieve such tremendous success, and I am more than proud to be involved.



A Cure For Cancer is Not My Goal? (Book Preview)

biology-316571_1280“My goal was never, and never will be to ‘cure cancer,’ but rather it is to treat cancer with less harmful side effects. Enhancing the lives of suffering patients is more than what I would ever want to accomplish. Also, I do not believe there ever will be one single cure for cancer. I am confident that there will be major improvements in the future to make curing cancer in certain individuals much easier, but I do not think a ‘cure’ exists beyond dreams.” -Preview of Innovation, the Key to Hope

With over 200 types of cancer, I can promise I will not be the magician that creates a “wonder-drug” that can cure all cancers, but what I can ensure is that I am devoted to improving the lives of others. While I am in the early stages of research, I know that specific molecule inhibitor drugs have a possibility to treat cancer with fewer side effects than typical cytotoxic chemotherapy. My research  project revolves around enhancing the quality of life for cancer patients in the future, anytime before the magic cure-all potion is invented in 2500.

Jokes aside, a cure would be amazing, but thinking small is key. One protein may control the fate of an entire person. A tiny chain of amino acids in a cluster of cells can kill. The precise mechanisms to target these are the innovative ideas of tomorrow.



The Past is in the Past

The infamous words “you have cancer” have been discussed across the globe with the same sorrowful response since the first time those words were ever spoken. However, some may find that while the cancer is destroying and invading their body, the treatment may actually be causing the most intense suffering. While often for cancer treatments, one must get worse before they get better, the same outlook has been given to cancer treatment for years. There are new treatments in the works that have the ability to diminish side effects from cancer treatments and there has never been a better time to seek such a solution.

While treatments like the ones I’m researching will not be options for most people for years, even understanding that other options exist can improve the difficult experience of suffering with cancer. Not only will these treatments enhance cancer treatment in the future, but they also allow patients to look past the present with hope for the future of medicine. As endless stories of patients’ tragedies fill the media, it may often be hard to see past the pain. While everyday is painful, just knowing there are options and that you are receiving the best possible treatment for your condition is enough to keep a person cheerful and determined to “win the fight”

These ideas and inventions are what fuel progress to a more successful cancer treatment and to happier lives. Subscribe to this blog to receive email updates on the first and third Friday of each month as I continue to describe how I am revising my book and preparing to publish it by April 2015. Also, please share blog posts with other survivors, caregivers, researchers or anyone you think would enjoy.



Introduction: Why?

“My name is Jennifer Schwartz and I am a Junior in the Ridgefield High School Science Research Program,” is always how I have been taught to introduce myself, but I am now proud to call myself so much more than a student. In a little over a year in my school’s Science Research Program, I have become an innovator, a creator, a scientist and hopefully by the end of my second year in the course, an author.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing “a science book.” I am discussing my perspective on cancer research and the disconnect between patients, researchers, and the public. My research journey has been so much more than I had ever expected. The exposure to the cancer research field is nothing like what I expected and I’m proud to be able to share my opinions and ideas with the public.

Subscribe to this blog to receive email updates on the first and third Friday of each month as I continue to describe how I am revising my book and preparing to publish it by April 2015. Also, please share blog posts with other survivors, caregivers, researchers or anyone you think would enjoy.