Graduated Griffins: AnneMarie Block ’75

By Nathan Ress

Assitant Features Editor

I met AnneMarie Block after walking into the grand front entrance of Roswell Park Cancer Institute. I found myself surrounded by patients and doctors alike, all coming and going amidst the brightly lit and artfully decorated front hallway. Many spoke on their cell phone or sipped coffee from the in-house Dunkin Donuts. Block and I shook hands, her in a clean white lab coat with the cancer institu

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AnneMarie Block displaying research on chromosomes to help cancer patients

te’s logo on it, before we embarked on a small tour of the facility.

Block currently works as Director of the Clinical Cytogenetics Laboratory at Roswell Park, a position she has held since 1988. Before this however, she pursued a rigorous education and training program, all starting at Canisius College.

Block started her time at Canisius in 1971, entering as a biology student on scholarship. This was only six years after the College began allowing women as full-time day students in 1965. Block remembers the ratio of men to women overall as two to one overall and four to one in her program. Despite this, she persevered and was proud to be studying at Canisius. “The program was very pre-med oriented,” Block said, thinking back to her studies.

This focus very much helped her find her passion and develop her skills in biology, especially in relation to medicine. She remembers “hands-on laboratory experience” while in class, experience that was invaluable both in her education, as well as carrying over into the professional field. This real world focus as well as academic rigor helped her focus her studies and develop exponentially as a student. The experience “prepared me well for the job that I have,” Block said.

Block also remembers the faculty as having a profound effect on her experience. She cited the genuine interest each professor took in their students, and how they truly worked for the benefit of those they taught. The school was much smaller in the early 1970’s and professors were able to be much more focused with their students. “You knew everyone, and everyone knew you,” Block remembers. She was able to make lasting connections with her peers through the school as well as find guidance and mentorship from faculty. These connections carry into the present, as Block attends reunions where she recognizes fellow students as well as past faculty.

Block remembers one professor in particular, Dr. Joan Lorch as an extremely influential and helpful teacher, one who stood out in her field, as well as her ability to teach and respect students. Lorch was a distinguished Canisius professor of Biology, as well as a primary force in the founding of the Women and Gender Studies Program at Canisius.

Taking these connections further, Block met her husband at Canisius College, each of them being members of the glee club on campus. He was a hockey player, and she remembers going to the games and watching him play, all the while supporting the Golden Griffins. This is a practice they still indulge in together, holding season passes to Canisius hockey games and taking full advantage of HARBORCENTER.

Block graduated from Canisius College in 1975, going on to continue her education at the University of New Hampshire. She received her master’s degree in genetics from University of New Hampshire in 1977 and came to Roswell Park that fall. She started as a Clinical Research Scientist in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine where she has worked for her entire career. After further rigorous study under Dr. Avery Sandberg she earned her PhD in Physiology through University of Buffalo’s medical program at Roswell Park in 1986. She considers Dr. Sandberg, her doctoral advisor, to be another personal mentor who shaped her career and life immensely, as well as an innovator in the medical field in his own right.

After receiving her doctoral degree she was promoted to Director of Clinical Cytogenetics Laboratory in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in 1988, the position she currently holds. Cytogenetics is a fairly new science pioneered in the 1940’s which involves the examining of chromosomes for abnormalities. Various cancers and other diseases have specific chromosomal anomalies that occur in the body, and through a variety of methods Block and her team are able to locate these abnormalities. Once located, the abnormalities are analyzed and a diagnosis is made.

Block and her team process over 2,500 samples a year in their laboratory, pushing the science as far as possible to provide the best possible results and prognoses. Block cites the many recent developments in this field as making such processes possible, some of which she and her team at Roswell have been key players in.

As a medical professional, Block is very focused on helping her patients, though she stays mostly in the realm of the lab. She remembers that each sample does relate to a person, and that in the end she is working to aid these individuals. This personal aspect harkens back to aspects of the Jesuit tradition that Block learned at Canisius College. Block believes “you can’t do a good job without helping someone out.”

Specifically, Block recognizes the social justice inherent in her work, and a core value of Jesuit beliefs. She works hard to respect and do the best possible job for her patients. “A Jesuit education is really special,” she said, recognizing it as a key formative period in her moral thinking. She also recognizes the integrity demanded of her in her current position, another value fostered in her time at Canisius College.

“Canisius provided me the exposure and the experience that I needed to move on in my career – and the confidence,” Block said. This tradition is continued in her family through her son. He was a graduate of Canisius High School, and attended Loyola Chicago for a computer science degree. Block also maintains a strong relationship with the college both professionally and through school organizations. She has led tours and lectures for students, even welcoming them into her own lab for guided projects.

Additionally, Block is a member of the Canisius Women’s Leadership Council, a group of distinguished Canisius alumna who work to mentor current and graduated Canisius women. It is a group that promotes women helping women and allows the fostering of professional as well as personal relationships.

For current students Block has several encouraging messages. She calls Canisius “a special place,” a place that has been extremely influential throughout her development both personally and professionally. She recognizes the strength of the Jesuit tradition and how it can have a “lifelong” effect on those who experience it. She treasures the standout education received at Canisius, and how it is recognized nationwide.

Block encourages students to explore themselves during their time at the college, taking advantage of courses outside of their major, courses they are willing to try and explore. She is very aware of the “tremendous opportunities for people,” available at Canisius, and urges students to attend as many beneficial events and talks as possible. Finally, she wishes for students to always remember to give back to their community, something she is happy to do each day at Roswell Park. She encourages this in subtle ways, each student helping others in a way that fits their specific skills, interests, and talents.

 

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