When senior biology lecturer Gregg Orloff 90PhD teaches his students about the disease process, he sometimes talks about a case with which he is intimately familiar: his wife's cancer.
"The students take the material to heart at a different level if they see that it could affect them or their families," says Orloff, who received a 2005 Crystal Apple award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. Other winners of the student-selected teaching awards were: Professor of Law Frank Alexander, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies Kristen Brustad, and Associate Research Professor of Neurology Yoland Smith.
Orloff's dealings with disease became personal in 1998 when Sherry Orloff 93MPH was diagnosed with breast cancer at age thirty-nine. "She went in for her baseline mammogram and they said, 'Oh, it doesn't look so good,' " says Orloff. "She had a biopsy, radiation, tamoxifen, a clinical trial of a different drug, and her gallbladder taken out due to side effects."
During her treatments, Gregg Orloff attended a support group session for patients and their families. Once the members found out he was a microbiologist and immunologist, he was inundated with questions. "They were hungry for information about what was happening to their bodies," he says. Their eagerness inspired Orloff to create the cancer information web site CancerQuest ( www.cancerquest.org ). "Most of the existing cancer web sites are either very technical and designed for doctors and scientists, or broad and simplistic," he says. "I saw the need for a site that teaches the biology of cancer in a way that empowered patients and their families."
CancerQuest was named one of the top five medical internet sites by Scientific American in 2003, and receives about twelve hundred visitors a day, with a total of about three hundred thousand visits last year from 129 countries. The site is available in English and Spanish, courtesy of a translation by Lily Liu 04C , and is being translated into Portuguese by Ricardo Steffen 03C and Chinese, via a collaboration with Peking University.
"I use CancerQuest in my teaching constantly. Students in my upper-level courses are responsible for generating much of the site's content," Orloff says. "Their projects go up online, which motivates them to do fully referenced, accurate, and engaging work."
Perhaps the most motivating factor of all, especially for Orloff, is that Sherry Orloff is now a seven-year cancer survivor.--M.J.L.