KU medical student researching breast cancer now battling the disease, too

Health

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Breast Cancer Awareness Month is taking on a whole new meaning for one young woman at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. 

The 29-year-old is a Ph.D. student and researcher, and now also a breast cancer patient. The diagnosis is now helping her in the search for a cure.

Lauryn Werner loves spending time in the lab. The fourth-year Ph.D. medical student at KU is passionate about helping uncover answers that could lead to better cancer treatments, maybe even a cure.

“There’s a very important reason why this work needs to be done. People’s lives are on the line. People’s family members and friends are dying of various forms of this disease every day,” said Werner, with KU Medical School’s biochemistry and biology department.

Lauryn’s work in the Hagan Lab is looking specifically at ways to help improve breast cancer treatments.

“So finding therapies that can activate immune cells to kill off cancer cells is very important especially with the development of immunotherapies as a new leg of cancer treatment,” Werner said.

What the 29-year-old didn’t expect was that her work would become quite personal. 

This summer, Lauryn was diagnosed with early stage triple-negative breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form of the disease. 

She just finished months of chemo, which was coupled with taking part in a KU clinical trial.

“As a researcher, I just thought this is part of my life calling. I might as well take part in this trial and the future of medicine,” Werner said.

She’s got a little time to recover now before surgery. Werner said her own diagnosis and treatment has not only increased her passion for her incredibly important work, but it’s also given her a new lens to eye the impacts treatments have for patients.

“When it actually comes down to putting that therapy into a patient, you really need to think about side effects — how is this going to be impacting their life?” Werner said.

During October, she’s taking another step to help patients. Werner’s put together an online fundraiser, already securing nearly $12,000 in donations to help advance breast cancer research. 

“I see a need for action more than I see a need for awareness,” she said. “I think most people in the country and the world are aware of breast cancer, perhaps not as aware as they should be of how many are still dying from this disease. I think the drive for me was really just generating more research funding, which I think is the only way we’re ultimately going to get to better numbers for survival from this disease.”

She’s hoping her research and fundraising efforts will make a real impact in giving patients, just like her, a fighting chance at a long, healthy life.

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