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Science of Childhood Cancer:
Conversations that Connect


Virtual lecture series fosters community.

By Erin Podolak; Photo by Peter Barta

Fostering connections: In pre-COVID-19 days, Charles Mullighan, MBBS, MD (left), and Charles Roberts, MD, PhD, could collaborate in person. When the pandemic hit, they worked with other St. Jude scientists to host a lecture series that reaches the world. 


Sharing science fuels progress by enabling researchers to hear about others’ work, swap suggestions, and apply new findings and methods to their own efforts. But communicating through conferences and other large in-person gatherings has not been possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scientists at St. Jude haven’t allowed the pandemic to keep the cancer research community apart. Instead, they are using technology to find ways to connect virtually.

International audience

One of these ways is the Science of Childhood Cancer virtual lecture series hosted by the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center. The initial 15-week series last fall attracted 3,700 registrants from more than 1,000 institutions, representing 97 countries worldwide. The program was so successful that a second series launched in January 2021.

“Scientists frequently travel to conferences and to other institutions to share ideas and learn about the latest discoveries,” says Charles Roberts, MD, PhD, director of the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center and executive vice president. “However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought travel to a halt. As the nation’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center dedicated solely to children, we saw an opportunity to facilitate engagement among scientists on a wide variety of topics relevant to pediatric cancer research.”

The Science of Childhood Cancer logo

Sparking collaborations

Scientists from leading research institutions, including St. Jude, are invited to present their work at the weekly lectures. The speakers are experts across the fields of basic, translational, clinical and population science. Each presentation is followed by a robust question-and-answer session, where participants can use the digital platform to interact with the speaker. Attendees often stay past the lecture’s formal end to continue their conversations.

Creativity and cooperation

The sessions have attracted investigators across the full career spectrum — ranging from students to senior professors, lab technicians to physicians. Two-thirds of the initial series attendees hailed from organizations other than St. Jude, re-creating a sense of global community that had been lost to the pandemic.

“This series has driven home how with a little creativity and cooperation we can still come together and connect over a shared passion for science,” says Charles Mullighan, MBBS, MD, deputy director of the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Pediatric cancer hasn’t stopped during the pandemic,” he continues, “and neither have we.”

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