Nanocourse: Sarah's interview with Nathalie's Dad

2016 Sunset High School graduate, Sarah Blair, recently interviewed Nathan Traller about his participation in the annual Nanocourse.  Nathan is Nathalie’s dad (see her story here).    Sarah:  What was the nanocourse? Nathan:  The nanocourse was a concentrated, one week of learning about all of the issues with childhood cancer research and getting new treatments for childhood cancer. It involved everything from learning specifics about three different cancer types that were our focus to the larger issues about why it’s been such a problem getting new cancer medicines for childhood cancers.     Sarah:  What brought you to the class?     Nathan:  There was some sort of connection with childhood cancer that brought everybody. There were people from as far as Washington D.C. to myself and a few people who were local. In my case it was very personal with having lost my daughter Nathalie to a rare cancer. Together we had learned about a lot of the issues with childhood cancer, lack of research, and how there wasn’t a financial incentive for drug development. Advocating along those lines had been something that we were starting to do together. My interest was both in wanting to push all of that forward in terms of making therapies more available for childhood cancers and also her rare disease ASPS was one of the three cancers highlighted and that was really special for me that that was a focus.   Sarah:  What was the best part?  Nathan:  I think the best part was really some of the group work and networking with other like-minded people. Dr. Keller had some really excellent guest speakers for us that opened our minds to different possibilities and then with other like-minded people and we would hash it out and think about what could be and problem solve. That was probably the best part, the excitement and going: “why don’t we try this?” or “this hasn’t worked in the past but what about this?” Some of those connections that we made were with people that would normally be on the other side of the country so that was one of the highlights. As well as seeing ASPS get a spotlight and for a rare disease that’s something that you hope for.   Sarah:  What was the hardest part?  Nathan:  I think the hardest part was connected with the good part with having ASPS highlighted in that it was so personal. We took a field trip up to OHSU and we heard from a pathologist who described all of the diseases. To hear about ASPS but then have the real human story in my mind and then hear about how bad it is and then one of the slides that she showed us to show us about the cells actually was Nathalie’s which was probably the hardest. This is not something I would normally choose to do if I just wanted to be comfortable and so that was the hardest, yet when I think about the reason we were there and why it was on the list it was actually not something I would change. I was happy that it was being highlighted, it just wasn’t easy. That was the trickiest part.  Sarah:  What was the most interesting thing that you learned during the course? Nathan:  That would be hard because there was a lot, but one of the things that caught my attention is I knew that the government has been trying to incentivize childhood cancers for drug companies by giving them something called a priority review voucher which lets them get kind of a fastpass for another one of their medicines being approved. I knew that was a thing and had worked to have that be supported. We heard from was a company that was actually figuring out how to encourage companies to invest in something so that then they could get the voucher and it would actually make them money. It was a really neat idea on how they would find ideas that were connected to the childhood cancer. They’d then connect it to investors and the investors would pay for the rest of it being developed and in return would get part of this voucher which is super valuable for drug companies. So it was the first time I had seen someone figure out a way to incentivize where people have a real reason to invest but it will also result in more medicines; I was fascinated by that because I could see the potential in it. Another thing, actually the very most interesting thing, was the work within the lab and learning how drug screens on cell cultures work. We got to see that over the course of the week. We got to see cell cultures for a certain cancer getting ready and then we saw how those were being applied to different concentrations of medicine and then we actually got to see then the results of which drugs are most effective at killing the cancer cells. To see that whole process was really fascinating to me and helped me to visualize it better. I always loved the in the lab time. Sarah:  What will you do with what you learned? Nathan:  Dr. Keller warned us it would be sort of like drinking from a fire hose and he was right. There was a lot of material and already in the week after it’s led to some actions. One of the other participants in the nanocourse has a radio show and so I have already been a part of that and helped her. So there’s already work happening together with some of the participants even though we’ve gone back to our hometowns we’re continuing to work together on different things. We’re sharing our connections and leads to advance what we care about which is working to defeat childhood cancers. That’s part of the next steps. In my case we do have a project ongoing with Dr. Keller and so my next steps will be continuing to finance and support that and also look for ways to support the Institute as a whole. Those will be some of the short term steps. I’ll be going to a symposium in September specific to ASPS where I can share about that so it won’t just stop because the course is over. There are some specific things sprinkled out throughout the year that are going to continue to happen and the course kind of fired them up and got them ready. I think I’m going to attend next year again and I’m thinking of some people that would be good to recruit that are in this area that I know care about the same things or are fascinated by it.  Sarah:  What did you learn that people in the general public do to help with this issue? Nathan:  I think that to me if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few years it’s that there’s power in people hearing a story and then sharing and then using their connections that they have if it’s important to them.There is quite a bit of power in everybody’s circles to maybe connect one or two people who could really then do something that helps it move forward. So really just caring about it, learning about it, and sharing it within your own network if it’s important to you goes very far helping things move forwards. I think that’s something that everybody can do. I’ve seen people who have a lot of medical knowledge and I’ve seen people who have just a little bit. I’ve seen people who are connected socially so they can send something out and then other people who think in more of a technical way and they help in a different way. That’s what I’ve learned is not to think that this problem is so vast that I can’t do anything. What I’ve found is that if you take the first step to have initiative and you’re passionate about it and you share about it you’ll quickly find someone who can do the things that you can’t and maybe they were just waiting to be invited or they didn’t know about the problem or they did have a connection but it took someone sharing about it to energize them to take action. There’s a lot of people who’ve been touched by cancer and childhood cancer is something that is more and more common in people’s lives and they’re not sure what they can do about it.    Thank you to Nathan Traller for sharing his experience and to all of the other Nanocourse participants.   Interview conducted by Sarah Blair: “I recently graduated from Sunset High School where I was heavily involved in student leadership. I am an incoming freshman at Santa Clara University and will be studying to go to medical school. I learned about the Institute through the Traller family and am now excited to be volunteering for the lab!”  

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