30 Years of ABE: From Humble Origins


30 Years of ABE: From Humble Origins

In 1989, during the early days of biotechnology, Southern California high school teacher Hugh Nelson had a summer internship at Amgen to learn more about the industry. Eager to bring what he learned back to his classroom, Nelson paired up with Amgen scientists Rick Jacobsen, Steve Elliott, and Bruce Wallace. Their goal was to put cutting-edge biotechnology into the hands of high school students, starting in the local community surrounding Amgen headquarters in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Out of this collaboration, led by Wallace, came the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE), with the first labs being piloted in Mr. Nelson’s classroom in 1990.

After launching the program locally, and with the engagement of numerous scientists and educators including Professor Marty Ikkanda, the program grew and grew beyond California. It now reaches 13 countries globally, including 10 sites in the United States. In a new video, Nelson, Jacobsen, and Ikkanda discuss the early origins of ABE and its explosive growth over the past 30 years.

“This program has scaled for many reasons,” Scott Heimlich, vice president of the Amgen Foundation. “But chief among them is the collective desire—at Amgen, at the Amgen Foundation, at our many nonprofit partners—to make a meaningful difference in our communities. With a decades-long significant commitment from the Amgen Foundation Board of Directors, Amgen executives, and science educators across the world, we now reach over 90,000 students every single year.”

Heimlich and others have worked to expand access to ABE even more over the past decade, with new sites, new curriculum modules such as a precision medicine lab, and a deep focus on access and equity. Through their efforts, ABE continues to empower and equip teachers to give every young person in a science classroom the chance to engage in real-world science with research-grade equipment. Now, having impacted nearly 850,000 students, ABE continues to evolve and adapt to meet the growing and changing demand for high-quality scientific lab experiences for high school students around the world.

ABE is now available virtually, thanks to LabXchange, a new science education platform launched in early 2020 by Amgen Foundation and Harvard. Now available in 12 languages, these virtual labs are allowing science educators and students to continue to engage in biotech even while school doors are closed.

“Thirty years after its first pilot, ABE’s goal remains the same: to empower teachers to bring science alive for their students,” Heimlich says. Reaching students from Tampa to Turkey, ABE will continue to make science possible for students globally.

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