by Sue Ann Rybak

Lakshmi Atchison, a biology professor at Chestnut Hill College describes her cancer cell model to her class.

Lakshmi Atchison, a biology professor at Chestnut Hill College, believes in giving her students an “ah-ha” moment.

Atchison, who teaches a Biology of Cancer class, is in the process of obtaining a patent for a cancer cell model she designed.

“It all started with my passion for teaching,” Atchison said. “Not only do I like to do a classroom lecture, I like to do a kind of show-and tell. I have to show my students. My approach is always very simple and yet it is a powerful message.”

The students couldn’t see the difference between normal red blood cells and different types of cancer cells under the microscope. Their response, according to Atchison, was always the same “this microscope doesn’t work or there is nothing on the slide.”

“I lost sleep,” Atchison said. “I said I have to show them a model because seeing is believing.”

But there were no red blood cell models, white blood cell models or cancer cell models. So, she went to Michael’s craft store and bought colored glass beads in a variety of shapes and sizes and put them on a petri dish.

“Immediately students looked at it and said ‘ah-ha,’” Atchison said. “Students went gaga over the model.”

Currently, Atchison’s cell model is being used to teach students on a national level.

“No one has done it,” she said.

Atchison went to John Hopkins to visit the chief of hematology.

“He said in all my practice I have never seen a blood cell model,” Atchison said. “So, people encouraged me to get a patent on it.”

Atchison also recently published a booklet entitled “Eight Cancers That Can Affect College Age Students.” Atchison also published a textbook about cancer biology and a cell and cancer laboratory manual several years ago because none existed.

“Atchison’s approach is more about cancer awareness and having the information,” said Lisa Mixon, media relations manager at Chestnut Hill College. “Many foundations and organizations use fear tactics to educate people about cancer. She wants people to say ‘I can change this. I can make a difference.’”

“Leukemia is something that effects all ages – babies, teenagers and adults,” Atchison said. “Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. It strikes one out of every three people. Cancer doesn’t discriminate whether you are young or old, professor or student, doctor or patient.”

Atchison hopes through education and cancer awareness to help prevent cancer and reduce the cancer burden on this country.

“About 1,500 people die per day from cancer,” Atchison said. “It’s a staggering number. Prevention is the best medicine.”

Atchison’s booklet uses acronyms to teach students helpful tips on preventing various types of cancer, such as Melanoma. Remember DRUM

  • Don’t sunbathe.
  • Rays are harmful.
  • Use sunscreen lotion.
  • Melanoma is deadly.

Atchison said all freshmen entering college should know the eight cancers that can affect college age students: lung, leukemia, lymphoma, skin/melanoma, brain, testicular, and uterine and cervical.

“You can’t tell a 80-year-old to stop smoking – it’s too late,” she added. “Many students think of cancer as a disease of the old – cancer affects everyone.”

Next year Chestnut Hill College hopes to incorporate Atchison’s booklet “Eight Cancers That Can Affect College Age Students” into its freshman seminar program.

“The booklet is simple but the information is very powerful,” Atchison said.

Nicole Fernandes, a senior molecular biology major said Atchison created the Biology of Cancer course because there weren’t any specific classes that teach about cancer. Fernandes said cancer affects one in three women and one in two men in the United States.

“She makes you understand how important it is to eat your vegetables,” Fernandes said.

Fernandes said Atchison uses a variety of visual aids to guide students to that “ah-ha” moment.

“For instance for colon cancer, she showed us how Katie Couric went through the screening colonoscopy to check for polyps,” Fernandes said. “Cancer is a really scary subject, but understanding the procedure and the techniques used to prevent cancer can help alleviate some of that fear.”

Another way Atchison educates her students is by providing opportunities for them to speak to a professional in the field.

“One of her favorite things to do is to bring in an alumna of Chestnut Hill College to speak to her students,” Fernandes said. “Right now, science is growing at such a rapid rate that our textbooks from last year are obsolete already. The experts working in the field are the ones who know what is going on in the profession now.”

Fernandes said Atchison is a successful teacher because she really loves her students and has a passion for teaching.

Atchison said that to be a successful teacher, “you have to have the four P’s – passion, patience, politeness and the power of knowledge.”


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