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Fall 2009
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Emily Casey ’11 Uses Lab to Enrich Studies

By Isabel Lea Sterne ’10

Professor Emeritus Ed Oyer, left, with
Professor Ronnie Coffman
Emily Lim

Emily Casey

Just two years into her studies at CALS, undergraduate Emily Casey ’11 is already an old hand in the research laboratory.

The biological sciences major has studied under Carl Batt, professor of food science, helping to design a skin test that could tell whether patients who have received a new cancer vaccine are experiencing the desired immune response. Her resume also includes two separate stints as a summer researcher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute in Maryland.

Casey says each experience incrementally teaches her to “think like a scientist.”

“It teaches me to think critically and analytically, to develop a plan of action when hurdles arise, to systematically rule out variables until I find the cause of a problem, and to have the patience to accept failure and the perseverance to work past it until I reach my goals,” says Casey, who is also a Cornell cheerleader.

Batt’s lab is working in conjunction with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research on a drug that stimulates an immune response that attacks cancer cells and spares healthy cells. In theory, the vaccine would serve patients better than chemotherapy, which kills normal cells along with cancer cells.

The skin test that Casey is helping to design will detect whether patients who have received the vaccine are making antibodies to NY-ESO1, an antigen found in multiple cancer types, rather than making antibodies to some background impurity in the injected dose. Batt describes this step as “critical” in the overall development of the drug, now in clinical trials.

“Emily is one of those unique students who is anxious to learn and a quick study,” says Batt, who views laboratory experience as crucial to undergraduate education.

By graduation, Casey hopes to optimize the test as the vaccine moves toward pharmaceutical production. She’s unsure about her plans after Cornell, though she can imagine leading her own laboratory or discovering new drugs for a pharmaceutical company. “I look forward to the day when I can ask my own questions and figure out how to answer them,” she says. —Isabel Lea Sterne ’10