Senior studies neuroblastoma cells’ response to retinoic acid

Emily Harasym concludes research for Honors thesis, defending work soon

ERIKA SARNO
Staff Writer

THE AQUINAS PHOTO / EMMA BLACK EMILY HARASYM, a senior Honors student, conducts research on the effects of nanomolar concentrations of retinoic acid on cancer cell differentiation.

THE AQUINAS PHOTO / EMMA BLACK
EMILY HARASYM, a senior Honors student, conducts research on the effects of nanomolar concentrations of retinoic acid on cancer cell differentiation.

As the academic year approaches its conclusion, students in the Honors Program will defend their Honors theses, which are the critical pinnacles in their research pursuits at The University. One such student is the senior biochemistry, cell and molecular biology major Emily Harasym.

Harasym began her research career during her sophomore year as a student in the cellular biology course taught by George Gomez, Ph.D. In the lab component of this course, Harasym began to study the effects of retinoic acid on a type of cancer cells known as neuroblastoma. This experience not only developed into a series of experiments that would later become an Honors thesis, but also sparked her passion for research.

“I really like the freedom that comes from leaving a classroom and being in a lab,” Harasym said. “It allows me to be curious and ask questions to which no one knows the answer.”

Since cell biology, Harasym has continued her research in Gomez’s lab. She received the President’s Fellowship for Summer Research in 2013 and presented her results at the 2013 American Society for Cellular Biology conference in New Orleans. In addition, she was awarded the Amgen Scholarship for Summer Research at the University of Washington in Seattle and spent a summer investigating mitochondrial dysfunction and life span in C. elegans.

Through her English and philosophy minors and membership in the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program, Harasym has taken a wide ranges of classes outside of the sciences. She enjoys books, museums, nature and horseback riding. Her peers in the Gomez laboratory cite her dedication to animal rights as a testament to her compassionate and peaceful demeanor.

“Emily Harasym is a gem to work with, always providing advice and tips from her experience when someone needs help. She is passionate about her work and enjoys sharing her passion with others,” junior lab member Christa Musto said.
Gomez identifies Emily as a leader in the research group and as a genuinely curious individual.

“Emily is a true scholar at heart. While her passion for learning extends to a broad variety of academic disciplines, it is in the arena of independent inquiry in scientific research where she truly shines. She has the intellect, creativity, discipline and tenacity to craft a scientific endeavor into a work of art,” he said.

Emily’s Honors thesis, to be presented April 28 at 10:30 a.m. in the Loyola Science Center, focuses on the effects of nanomolar concentrations of retinoic acid on the differentiation of cancer cells. Retinoids, chemical derivatives of vitamin A, bind to receptors in the nucleus and cause cells to produce specific proteins which induce differentiation. In us ing such small concentrations of the compound, as opposed to the micromolar concentrations currently being used in other clinical trials,

Harasym is able to pinpoint the specific characteristics of the cancer cell differentiation.

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