WC chemistry alumni discusses developments in field of Oncology

By Heather Fabritze
Elm Staff Writer

The Washington College Department of Chemistry and the Joseph H. McLain Fund hosted a talk titled “ONCOLOGY: A Quarter Century of Progress; The Cancer ‘Moonshot Initiative’ at Midpoint” on Nov. 4., as the first in a series of seminars by various chemistry alumni, including Dr. Laura Kerbin, ‘88.

The event, hosted at 4:30 p.m. in the Litrenta Lecture Hall in the John S. Toll Science Center, was held in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the American Chemical Society’s approval of WC’s program in chemistry.

Medical Oncologist and Director of Chemotherapy at the Onancok Riverside Shore Center Dr. Kerbin led the event.

Dr. Kerbin was the recipient of the Joseph H. McLain Prize when she attended the College.

She has since become certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in internal medicine, medical oncology, and palliative medicine. She also co-founded the Breast Health Center at Riverside, and founded a high-risk oncology clinic for medically underserved patients.

Dr. Kerbin feels that part of her success comes from the small class sizes that WC provided her as a student.

“I wasn’t lost in the shuffle,” Dr. Kerbin said. “And I think it was really nice to not get lost. Because once you do that, you get the confidence to sort of go out to something bigger and feel more comfortable.”

Clarence C. White Professor of Chemistry Rosette Roat-Malone began the talk with an introduction before Dr. Kerbin summarized basic terms related to cancer that she would be covering throughout the presentation.

Dr. Kerbin focused on the various targeted cancer therapies that she’s worked on within her more than 20 years of work experience. She defines these therapies as treatments that target the proteins which “control how the cancer cell grows, divides, or spreads.”

According to Dr. Kerbin, not all of these therapies work 100% of the time, but when they do, the results are “phenomenal.”

The presentation included before and after X-rays of patients that underwent these types of treatment, showcasing the success that they experienced.

A large part of why Dr. Kerbin wanted to go into oncology, which is defined by the National Cancer Institute as the branch of medicine that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, was due to her personal background with cancer and a desire to help others overcome it.

“Just before I was born, my dad had cancer and melanoma,” Dr. Kerbin said. “From the time I was born, for the first five years…every time we had to go to the doctor, it was like going to see cancer. So, it’s the only thing I knew about medicine and I always knew I wanted to be a doctor.”

Since achieving her goal, there have been many developments within the world of cancer treatments. One part of the presentation that Dr. Kerbin emphasized was just how much progress regarding cancer research was made in the last few decades.

Due to the recent increase in knowledge related to cancer and its potential treatments, Dr. Kerbin encourages any students interested in the field to pursue it as a career; she feels that there is no better time to become an oncologist than now.

“It seems to be the best time to actually be a practicing oncologist because of all the things that we’re seeing, all the progress that we’re making,” Dr. Kerbin said. “Really, all the ways that we can help people that we couldn’t before.”

Photo by Grace Hazlehurst
Featured Photo Caption: During her oncology presentation, Dr. Laura Kerbin ‘88 goes into great depth in detailing the history of cancer and how long the medical world has struggled against it.

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