Jefferson Award Winner Co-Founded Burlingame Cancer ResearchBy Sharon Chin

BURLINGAME (KPIX 5) –  Seventeen-year-old Alexander Lee co-founded the group Burlingame Cancer Research in 2014. Its 100 high school volunteers from the Bay Area and East Coast share what they’ve learned with cancer patients and their families.

Lee understands; his grandmother suffered from leukemia.

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“If you have a loved one that’s diagnosed with cancer, even if you have a doctor, it’s just natural to want to learn more,” he said sympathetically.

The first thing the volunteers learn is ‘What is cancer?’ and ‘How does your immune system work?’

The teens read college textbooks about cancer treatment, success rates, and cost so they can educate patients in person, or through the group’s website.

Under Lee’s leadership, volunteers also organize conferences, develop video games, and operate a separate website for finding clinical trials.

Mike Dunn, the group’s adviser at Burlingame High, says Lee is advanced beyond his years.

“He can converse on a professional, intellectual, and scientific level to people who speak another language to the average person,” Dunn said.

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To get an overview of real-world research, biotech giant Genentech recently invited some of the students to tour the plant where it tests molecules. The group, and Lee in particular, impressed principal scientist Shannon Turley.

“He’s a remarkable person,” Turley said. “I want to get to know him better an maybe have him do an internship.”

The teenager has already had internships at UCSF and Stanford. He and his fellow students never know how they’ll use their knowledge: when a family friend was diagnosed with cancer, volunteer Saurav Shroff shared treatment information that brought peace of mind.

“The word ‘cancer’ is so scary that the tools and skills that Burlingame Cancer Research has given me, I would’ve never been able to do that,” Shroff said.

Now, thanks to Lee, many teenagers are learning another lesson:

“A high school student can do anything they put their mind towards,” he said.

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So for helping create a teen-based group that empowers cancer patients, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Alexander Lee.