Making Sense of the Science

“The public thinks science is boring … which is so far from the truth.”

Danielle Twum is making it her mission to educate the public about the cutting-edge research taking place at Roswell Park, and how these breakthroughs change the way we treat cancer.

The third-year pre-doctoral candidate, studying immunology in Dr. Scott Abrams’ lab, spearheaded her efforts last fall with a compelling presentation at TEDxBuffalo, an independent, local version of TED Talks. Danielle’s goal in creating her talk, titled “Guardians of Your Inner Galaxy,” was to turn the immune system into a completely relatable subject for the general public.

“I wanted to use words that my parents, sister and friends would understand even though they’re very educated, but they’re not scientists,” Danielle explained.

As she quickly discovered, turning scientific jargon into an easily digestible and understandable 14-minute package was easier said than done. At one point, during preparation, Danielle’s TEDxBuffalo coach, also a scientist by trade, informed her that she was losing him. “He said, ‘You’re not using words I understand,’” laughed Danielle.

After six months of preparation — with her parents and Dr. Abrams in attendance — Danielle wowed the TEDxBuffalo crowd, achieving her goal through the presentation, which featured humor, colorful graphics and a breakfast food analogy. “A woman came up to me after the talk and said, ‘I wish you were my science teacher,’” said Danielle. “I probably cried, but I don’t remember!”

Originally hailing from Ghana, Danielle moved to the United States in 2007 and was accepted at Vassar College shortly after. After a brain tumor claimed her uncle’s life at a young age, Danielle threw her efforts into studying cancer.

“I always made the vow that I would try to understand what cancer was because of him,” she said.

While studying at Vassar, she applied to the Roswell Park Summer Research Program for students and was placed in Dr. Thomas Schwaab’s lab. Five years later, Danielle is still here, now making her way through graduate school under the tutelage of Dr. Abrams.

“I love this place,” she said. “I love the patient-centered programs. I love how there’s outreach to educate the public about cancer and prevention. It’s a wonderful place.”

Watch Danielle's entire presentation of "Guardians of Your Inner Galaxy."