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Indiana middle school students experience day as IU cancer scientists as a reward from Leukemia & Lymphoma Society


INDIANAPOLIS — Thirty-two Hamilton County students who raised money for the Indiana Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society will receive a reward Monday when they meet with Indiana University School of Medicine faculty who study and treat blood cancers.

Students from Hamilton Heights Middle School in Arcadia will spend Monday learning what it is like to be a leukemia or lymphoma researcher, physician or a patient and tour the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. Students from that school raised $4,764 this school year and, over the past six years, have raised nearly $20,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Pennies for Patients fundraising drive.

Hosts for the day are Randy Brutkiewicz, Ph.D., assistant dean for faculty affairs and professional development, assistant dean for research and professor of microbiology and immunology at the IU School of Medicine, and Attaya Suvannasankha, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the IU School of Medicine. Both are scientists with the IU Simon Cancer Center.

This is the first time the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has offered the event. For the past 15 years, students in more than 600 Indiana schools have participated in Pennies for Patients. This year, the society decided to offer middle and high schools that raised more than $2,013 during the Pennies for Patients drive in February with an opportunity to participate in this special, hands-on field trip at the IU School of Medicine. The names of those schools were entered into a pool and a drawing produced the winner, said Elissa Evernham, school and youth director, Indiana Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

While visiting the IU Simon Cancer Center, the students will have the opportunity to tour Dr. Brutkiewicz’s laboratory and a cancer clinic, learn to mix chemotherapy drugs from an oncology pharmacist, and visit with a stem cell transplant patient. Dr. Suvannasankha will discuss treatment options for cancer patients and share how her education led her to a career as an oncologist.

As a young researcher, Dr. Brutkiewicz was the recipient of the prestigious Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Scholar Award. His research focuses on how blood cancer cells hide from a person’s immune system. His goal is to identify the molecules on the surface of cancer cells that allow this to happen and to develop ways to unmask the molecules so cancer cells can be identified and killed by the immune system or chemotherapeutic agents.

Dr. Suvannasankha is a physician with a laboratory interest in an incurable blood cancer, multiple myeloma. Her research focuses on determining how cancer cells become resistant to cancer treatments and identifying new ways or drugs to overcome the resistance. 

This year, Pennies for Patients will raise nearly $650,000 in Indiana. The funds raised support research, patient services, education programs and advocacy.

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About The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (R) (LLS) is the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer. The LLS mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world and provides free information and support services.  Founded in 1949 and headquartered in White Plains, NY, LLS has chapters throughout the United States and Canada. To learn more, visit or contact the Information Resource Center at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

About the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

As a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, the IU Simon Cancer Center is one of only 67 in the nation. NCI-designated cancer centers are recognized for meeting rigorous criteria for world-class, state-of-the-art programs in multidisciplinary cancer research. NCI-designated cancer centers put significant resources into developing research programs, faculty, and facilities that will lead to better approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.