September 28, 2015 | By Jake Weber
"I'm very involved in Relay for Life at Albion and raising cancer awareness is very important to me," says Kassy Kneen, '16. For a lot of students, this level of effort in the fight against cancer is all they can do. Kneen, however, spent this past summer in one of the country's premier research centers, helping to expand scientific understanding of cancer in order to combat it.
Kneen worked in the Translational Hematology and Oncology Research department at the Cleveland Clinic. As part of a team that studied protein mutations and their relationship to blood and bone marrow disorders and cancers such as leukemia, Kneen became quite skilled at preparing samples for DNA extraction.
Cutting-edge research, however, isn't just about materials in your own lab. Kneen spent much more time organizing the DNA extraction data for use with various computer analysis programs. Additionally, she learned how to navigate genomic databases compiled at other institutions in order to research population occurrences of certain protein mutations.
Kneen's work helped her reseach team determine how certain protein mutations in the general population compare to people with blood-related disease, information that is critical in directing future work on cures. The work gave Kneen new skills in—and new appreciation for—working with large amounts of data.
"You see the numbers, but you don't know what it means until you do the analyisis," she says. "I could start to see what the output of the analysis was going to be, and those implications for our work were very cool."
Joining a research project in progress, Kneen jumped right in from day one, learning by doing. "I was involved in an important project almost immediately," she reflects. "This has shown me just how much pressure cancer researchers handle with their projects. It was incredible to see the commitment it takes by a large group of M.D.s and highly educated people to study such a small protein to try to make a difference in the field of oncology."
The internship didn't change Kneen's aspiration to practice medicine, but it did give her new ideas about being a doctor. "In my internship, I saw practicing physicians very involved in research. It's definitely something I'll consider when the time comes," she says.
"Having the opportunity to be at the center of cancer research at Cleveland Clinic has opened my eyes to so many possibilities and makes me even more excited to finish my biology degree."