July 2012 Heart of MD Anderson

http://youtu.be/vW1x8WQ6nsQ Helen Huls isn't just a manager. Those who work with her see her as a mentor and even a mom. A laboratory manager in Pediatrics Research, Huls says the respect is mutual. "I learn from and grow with them," she says. "I like to be a part of their lives and help them move forward." The care she shows to those around her helps make her July's winner of the Outstanding Employee Award. Huls makes it a point not only to manage but to personally train all new lab employees, right down to where things are stored and how to perform a detailed procedure. But her involvement goes further. "I've always seen the people in my lab as my children," she says. And during her six years at MD Anderson, Huls has seen her lab family grow from four to 30 employees. Huls' lab is quite international, and she makes it a point to help employees set up their new lives in Houston, from finding apartments to opening bank accounts. She also makes sure that milestones are celebrated and support is given to employees going through tough times such as family deaths. "She remembers all the little pieces of an employee's family life and makes coming to work a real pleasure," says her boss, Laurence Cooper, M.D., Ph.D., professor, Pediatrics. "When people speak of her as that mother figure, it's because she's there to help you do better. She honors everybody's work and individual strengths." Huls attributes her managerial style and work ethic to her parents and grandparents. "They always taught us to be proud of what we did, to work as hard as you could and to help other people," she says. Huls' contributions have helped advance immunotherapy treatments at MD Anderson, specifically infusing genetically modified T cells. This type of therapy involves manipulating a patient's immune cells in the laboratory to become better cancer-fighting cells and then infusing them back into the patient. "The arc from the bench to the bedside is something that Helen has helped MD Anderson pioneer," says Cooper. Researchers from across the institution and around the globe come to learn from Huls. Then they incorporate her best practices back at their labs. "She's the complete package," says her coworker Harjeet Singh, research investigator, Pediatrics-Research. "She knows the research and clinical parts, she's a caring person who is easy to talk to, and she gives 100%." Never settling for the status quo, Huls is always looking for ways to move her lab forward. Her driving force is our patients. "She thinks about the patients and motivates us all to do better," Cooper says. "Thanks to her skills and work ethic, everyone benefits."