Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

Best Schools for Cancer Research in the US

9 minute read

Why is Cancer Research Important?

Cancer research holds immense importance due to the widespread impact of cancer on individuals and communities worldwide. Beyond its staggering prevalence, understanding and combating cancer are crucial for several reasons. First, cancer remains one of the leading causes of death globally, and advancements in research are essential for developing more effective treatments and, ultimately, finding cures. Second, cancer research contributes to the early detection of the disease, improving the chances of successful treatment. It also enhances our understanding of the intricate mechanisms underlying different types of cancer, paving the way for targeted therapies and personalized medicine. Finally, cancer research has far-reaching implications for public health, influencing prevention strategies, risk assessment, and lifestyle recommendations. In essence, ongoing cancer research is a beacon of hope, driving progress toward better outcomes, increased survival rates, and an overall improvement in the quality of life for those affected by cancer.

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What Does This Entail?

Cancer is a complex and multifaceted disease, characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and the potential to spread to other parts of the body. Without robust research efforts, our ability to comprehend the intricacies of cancer biology and develop targeted therapies remains limited. Cancer research is pivotal for the discovery of novel treatments and interventions. The development of precision medicine, which tailors treatments based on the individual characteristics of a patient's cancer, is a direct result of research advancements. These personalized approaches maximize treatment efficacy while minimizing side effects, marking a paradigm shift in cancer care. Furthermore, research plays a crucial role in cancer prevention and early detection strategies. Identifying genetic markers and environmental factors that increase cancer risk enables the implementation of preventive measures and early screening programs. This proactive approach is vital for reducing the incidence and mortality associated with cancer.

Whether you’re interested in a cancer research summer program or a cancer research competition more specifically, we’re here to support you along the way.

What are the Top Schools for Cancer Research in the US?

Several institutions in the United States have established themselves as leaders in cancer research, boasting renowned faculty and cutting-edge facilities. 

  1. John Hopkins University School of Medicine

  2. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC)

  3. MD Anderson Cancer Center – University of Texas at Austin

  4. Harvard Medical School – Dana-Farber Cancer Institute 

  5. Johns Hopkins University – Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

  6. Stanford Cancer Institute 

  7. University of Washington – Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center 

  8. Cleveland Clinic – Lerner Research Institute 

What are some Lesser Known Schools for Cancer Research?

  1. Fox Chase Cancer Center (Affiliated with Temple University Health System)

  2. Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina

  3. Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center (Affiliated with the State University of New York)

  4. City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center (Affiliated with Beckman Research Institute)

  5. Norris Cotton Cancer Center (Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center)

  6. Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska Medical Center)

  7. Massey Cancer Center (Virginia Commonwealth University)

  8. Markey Cancer Center (University of Kentucky)

Is Cancer Research Only For Graduate Students? What Can High Schoolers Do?

The aforementioned institutions for cancer research are predominantly oriented towards medicine and graduate programs, particularly MD/PhD programs, reflecting a strong emphasis on preparing students for comprehensive careers in both clinical practice and research. Some of these schools are integral parts of larger academic institutions, such as Johns Hopkins, Harvard, or UT, fostering a close integration between research education and medical training. 

For those looking for cancer research for high school students or to pursue it during their undergraduate years, it is important to focus on getting the right academic coursework and education. Students can do this by pursuing majors that provide a comprehensive understanding of biology, genetics, biochemistry, and related disciplines. However, for a high school student inclined towards math or engineering, there are also unique pathways to contribute significantly to cancer research. Mathematics plays a pivotal role in constructing models that enhance our understanding of complex biological systems, while engineering skills are instrumental in developing innovative technologies for cancer detection, imaging, and treatment. 

By intertwining a passion for mathematics or engineering with a dedication to cancer research, students can forge a meaningful career path, making tangible contributions to the ongoing advancements in our understanding and treatment of this intricate disease. This interdisciplinary approach not only broadens the scope of impact but also empowers undergraduate students to play an integral role in the intersection of scientific and technological innovations within the realm of cancer research.

Some common majors for aspiring cancer researchers include:

  1. Biology

  2. Chemistry and Biochemistry

  3. Physics and Biophysics 

  4. Computational Biology / Physics

  5. Neuroscience

  6. Mathematics 

  7. Biomedical Engineering 

The top schools for these common majors for aspiring cancer researchers include, but are not limited to Harvard, MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, and University of Washington. These schools often provide a more intimate and collaborative learning environment, fostering strong connections between students and faculty members. Students at these institutions have the opportunity to actively participate in cutting-edge research projects, gaining hands-on experience that can be invaluable for their academic growth and overall career development. That being said, students can pursue their bachelor's degree at any 4-year institution, whether in the US or abroad, and then aim for one of the cancer research institutes listed above for their graduate and doctoral degrees.

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What if I don’t want to go to medical school?

For students who don't intend to pursue advanced degrees or attend medical school but are passionate about contributing to cancer research, there are still numerous avenues to engage in meaningful work in the field. Many research institutions and cancer centers offer positions for research assistants or laboratory technicians, providing an opportunity to actively contribute to ongoing projects without the need for advanced degrees. Joining research teams, whether in academic or industry settings, allows individuals to collaborate with experienced researchers and contribute their skills to various aspects of cancer research, from data analysis to experimental work. 

Can Engineers Be Involved in Cancer Research?

Fields like Biomedical or Chemical engineering can offer a dynamic pathway for individuals seeking to contribute to cancer research within various industries, including pharmaceutical industries and tech. In the pharmaceutical sector, biomedical engineers can play pivotal roles in drug development, designing innovative therapies, and conducting preclinical research. They may be involved in optimizing drug delivery systems, developing targeted therapies, or enhancing the efficiency of a cancer clinical trial.

In the tech industry, biomedical engineers can leverage their skills in data analytics, machine learning, and computational modeling to enhance cancer research. Working on projects that involve analyzing large datasets, developing algorithms for early cancer detection, or designing digital healthcare solutions can have a substantial impact. Moreover, the intersection of biomedical engineering and cancer research extends to areas like medical devices, diagnostics, and wearable devices that aid in cancer detection, monitoring, and treatment.

How Can High School Students Engage in Cancer Research?

High school and undergraduate students eager to delve into cancer research can take proactive steps to initiate their journey in this field. Firstly, they can seek out local research opportunities, whether through nearby universities, medical centers, or research institutions, that may offer some form of summer internship program, research training, or mentorship initiative specifically designed for high school students. Participating in science competitions can also be a fruitful avenue, allowing students and summer scholars to showcase their research skills and potentially gain recognition for their work.

Additionally, students can leverage online platforms and databases that connect them with virtual research opportunities and mentors in the field of cancer research. Joining science clubs or extracurricular activities at school can foster a supportive community and provide a platform for discussing and exploring shared interests in cancer research. Finally, reaching out directly to local researchers, scientists, or professors who specialize in cancer-related studies can open doors for mentorship and potential collaborations. By demonstrating enthusiasm, initiative, and a genuine interest in contributing to the fight against cancer, high school students can kickstart their involvement in cancer research and pave the way for future endeavors in this critical field.

Polygence Scholars Are Also Passionate About

Are There Any Polygence Students Who Have Done Cancer Research Projects?

Here are some of our students who have done cancer research over the past few years:

#1 Cayla’s project on “CRISPR/Cas9 Gene Editing: An Approach to Prevent Hereditary Cancers” on how genome editing technology can prevent the occurrence and recurrence of genetic cancers.

“I chose to focus on this topic because I wanted to integrate my love for biology and biochemistry with an issue that has impacted my friends and family. I would like to create a research paper with my findings and submit this paper for publication.” – Polygence student, Cayla

#2 Angel’s project, titled “Novel CAR design dually targets HER2+ breast cancer and MDSCs to improve efficacy in solid tumors

“I was expecting to complete a research project centered around biotechnology in cancer treatment. However, I did not expect to produce such a highly-detailed research paper or learn as much as I did about CAR T cell therapy and the process of ideating new designs in biotech!” – Polygence student, Angel

#3 Nashita’s project on “Current treatments and future directions in leukemia”. You can read about Nashita’s research paper or watch a Polygence Rising Scholars Symposium presentation here.

“My project outcome is a review paper on leukemia treatments. I also presented my project at the Symposium of Rising Scholars and submitted it to the Journal of High School Science.” – Polygence student, Nashita

#4 Meha’s project on “Exploring the role of CRISPR in cell-based cancer immunotherapy

“I am working on a project relating to CRISPR and its potential to cure cancer. Since I am interested in coming up with new solutions and cures for dangerous diseases including cancer, I decided to apply my knowledge and enthusiasm to this specific research idea. After I finish my project I would like to participate in the Polygence symposium, submit my research to high school research journals, and work on writing my book about cancer!” – Polygence student, Meha

How Can Cancer Research in High School Make an Impact?

Cancer research impacts millions of lives, and there are many ways you can make an impact. Majoring in fields such as biology, biochemistry, or biomedical science can lay the foundation for a future in cancer research. However, students who are passionate about engineering or mathematics can also pursue cancer research by pursuing computational projects or working in the pharmaceutical or tech industry. High school students can take proactive steps towards their aspirations through programs like Polygence, which offer mentorship opportunities and research experiences under the guidance of seasoned professionals.